Blue Eagles end season with shutout
By By SCOTT COOPER - Sports Writer
Playing only for pride and the satisfaction of ending the season on a winning note after being eliminated from playoff contention the previous week, the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles came out with fire in their eyes and dominated the Geneva Panthers Friday night in a 35-0 win.
In raising their season record to 6-4, the Blue Eagles turned back an early Panthers' scoring threat before 14 second-quarter points allowed them to take control of the game. Two unanswered Neal touchdowns at the beginning of the third quarter put the game out of reach at 28-0. Then, another score early in the fourth period put an exclamation point on the win.
Although the loss ended Geneva's season with a 4-6 record, the Blue Eagles' performance was accented by the fact that it marked the first time the Panthers have been defeated by more than 21 points.
Following the game, Neal head coach Jim Fountain said Neal's impressive victory was a tribute to the Blue Eagle players who wanted a strong end to the season.
Geneva received the opening kickoff and, playing the straight-ahead, pounding football for which they are known, began a drive that looked as as if it would give them an early lead.
Starting from their own 22-yard line, the Panthers moved the football down the field with their power running game to the Neal 3-yard line. Facing a fourth down and goal-to-go from that point, the Panther running back took the handoff straight ahead before Roc Herbert met him head-on from his linebacker position for a 2-yard loss.
After stopping the scoring threat, Neal took possession on its 5-yard line. But, three plays later and after gaining only five yards, the Blue Eagles were forced to punt.
Geneva began its next possession from the Panther 44-yard line after a 46-yard Alphonso Gross punt. The Blue Eagles' Kirk Gantt stuffed a first down run before Craig Tagudar stopped a second down run after a 1-yard gain. On a third down running play, Tagudar and Mario Daniel combined to allow no gain and force a Geneva punt.
The Blue Eagles put the ball in play on their 24-yard line following the punt and began marching down the field with precision.
Gross, who finished with 157 yards rushing, got things started by gaining 36 yards down the left sideline to the Geneva 40-yard line. Nick Benjamin hit Marcus Folmar along the right sideline on a pass connection to the 30-yard line before Benjamin gained seven on a quarterback keeper to the 23-yard line. Tristen Elliott then gained 11 yards up the middle before Gross moved the ball three yards closer to paydirt on the next snap. Following an Elliott 2-yard gain on the next play, a Gross run around left end covered the remaining seven yards needed for the touchdown. Spencer Williamson nailed the PAT to give Neal a 7-0 lead with 9:59 remaining in the second quarter.
After forcing the Panthers to punt on their next possession, the Blue Eagles embarked on another drive that padded their lead before the half.
Beginning from the Neal 27-yard line, the 8-play drive was highlighted by a 44-yard Gross run that moved the ball to the Geneva 10-yard line. From there, Folmar gained four yards to the 6-yard line before Benjamin took it up the middle from his quarterback position for the score. Williamson split the uprights on the PAT to give the Blue Eagles a 14-0 lead they would take into the locker room at halftime.
It required only a few seconds of the third quarter for the Blue Eagles to further cushion their advantage, as Folmar returned the second half kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. Williamson's PAT made the score 21-0 less than a minute into the period.
After the Panthers threatened by moving down to the Neal 7-yard line on their next possession, a fourth down pass attempt fell incomplete and allowed Neal to take over on downs.
On the first play from scrimmage, Tagudar took the handoff up the middle before cutting it to the outside and down the sideline on his way to a 93-yard touchdown run. The lead was stretched to 28-0 after Williamson was true with the PAT.
The Blue Eagles scored their final touchdown of the game on the second play of the fourth quarter with a 5-play drive that began at Neal's 41-yard line.
Gross carried the football on each snap of the march down the field. A nine-yard toss sweep to the right gained nine yards before on off-tackle run netted a seven-yard gain down to Geneva's 43-yard line. A 26-yard gain resulted from a toss sweep to the right on the following play, and then a trap play moved the ball another 11 yards. Gross capped the drive with his next carry by crossing the goal line from six yards out. Williamson ended the scoring at 35-0 with the PAT and put the finishing touch on the impressive season-ending win.