Eagles make it two in a row at Abbeville
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Their score on the first possession of the game may not have been the deciding factor. On the other hand, it certainly allowed the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles to dictate the way the game would be played.
After it halted a five-game losing streak dating back to last season the previous week, W.S. Neal notched its second straight victory Friday with a 34-20 road win over the Abbeville Yellow Jackets in a Class 3A Region 1 matchup.
"This gets us back even (2-2) in the region and back in the playoff picture. We've got a very pivotal game at home next week against Straughn. That game will have a big impact on our playoff hopes," W.S. Neal coach Shane Smothers said.
While the Blue Eagles (2-4 overall) scored on their first offensive series the week before against Dale County, that came after Dale County scored on the first series of the game.
This time W.S. Neal took the opening kickoff and drove 59 yards over 11 plays, which ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Jake Bailey. Abbeville (0-4 in Region 1 and 1-5 overall) was often its own worst enemy on that series with three offsides penalties. Two of those flags gave the Blue Eagles first downs.
Although Josh Danley's point after kick was blocked, W.S. Neal had a 6-0 lead with 6:34 left in the first quarter.
"That's the first time all season we've jumped out in front at the start of a game. It really helped to fire up our defense and it also took a little pressure off them," Smothers said.
The Blue Eagles' defense responded to the offensive score with a three-and-out series that pinned Abbeville just inside its own five-yard line. A short punt and 15-yard return by Justin Smith put the Blue Eagles back in business at the Yellow Jackets 23.
With the aid of a face mask penalty on the hosts, W.S. Neal needed just four plays to hit paydirt again. Marquis Barksdale hit Mario Daniel on an 11-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-six with 2:10 left in the quarter.
Justin Smith, who shared the quarterback duties with Barksdale in place of an injured Daniel Hodge (arm), connected with Ron Dexter on a two-point conversion pass that took the lead up to 14-0.
Special teams miscues have plagued the Blue Eagles most of the season and they jumped up and bit W.S. Neal again when Abbeville's John Grubbs returned the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown. Grubbs had his PAT kick blocked, but W.S. Neal's lead had still been reduced to 14-6 with 1:49 left in the frame.
The Blue Eagles got that score back early in the second quarter. Given good field position at the Yellow Jackets 45, W.S. Neal needed just five plays to cover the distance. A key 12-yard completion from Barksdale to Johnathan Alexander and a 13-yard gain by Daniel set up Bailey's second touchdown run of the first half, this one from three yards out. Danley's PAT kick was again blocked, but the Blue Eagles' lead had grown to 20-6 with 9:24 left in the first half.
Abbeville had a chance to cut into that lead late in the first half, but Ben Crane thwarted the threat when he intercepted D.J. Wiggins' pass in the endzone. Crane's pick along with one each by Bailey and James Freeman was one of three the Blue Eagles pass defense had in the game.
Three key plays within a minute late in the third quarter all but secured W.S. Neal's victory.
First, Daniel notched a 15-yard touchdown run to the right with 3:06 left in the frame. Danley's PAT split the uprights for a 27-6 lead.
Burned by their return coverage earlier in the game, the Blue Eagles went to a squib kick off the kickoff and W.S. Neal recovered the ball near midfield.
A key 38-yard pass from Barksdale to Daniel set up a 14-yard touchdown run by Ronald Travis. Danley's successful kick swelled the gap to 34-6 with 2:11 left in the quarter.
Abbeville recorded a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that made the final score more respectable. John Grubbs threw a seven-yard touchdown strike to Markus Sipp a minute into the fourth quarter. Grubbs then teamed up with William Feggins on a two-point pass that trimmed the Blue Eagles' lead to 34-14.
The Yellow Jackets final score came with 1:52 left when Grubbs scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper. Grubbs was stopped on a two-point run attempt that kept the final score at 34-20.
"We got a lot of people involved. Marquis and Justin both did a nice job filling in for Daniel at quarterback. We rotated the ball a lot among our backs," Smothers said. "Abbeville threw the ball some at us (three completions out of 10 attempts for 71 yards), but nothing near what I expected them to do. Maybe they tried to run the ball more as a way to slow us down some, but it didn't work."
The Blue Eagles return home this Friday for another key Region 1 showdown against Straughn at 7:30 p.m.
W.S. Neal 14 6 14 0 – 34
Abbeville 6 0 0 14 – 20
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 1 yard run (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Daniel 11 yard pass from Barksdale (Dexter pass from J. Smith)
ABBEVILLE- J. Grubbs 95 yard kickoff return (kick failed)
W.S. NEAL- Bailey 3 yard run (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Daniel 15 yard run (Danley kick)
W.S. NEAL- Ron. Travis 14 yard run (Danley kick)
ABBEVILLE- Sipp 13 yard pass from J. Grubbs (Feggins pass from J. Grubbs)
ABBEVILLE- J. Grubbs 1 yard run (run failed)
First downs: W.S. Neal 13, Abbeville 9
Third down conversions: W.S. Neal 3-5, Abbeville 1-11
Fourth down conversions: W.S. Neal 1-1, Abbeville 1-3
Total yards: W.S. Neal 255 (171 rushing, 84 passing), Abbeville 161 (97 rushing, 64 passing)
Individual rushing: W.S. Neal- Daniel 9-80 1TD, J. Smith 6-35, Bailey 7-19 2TD, Ron. Travis 3-17 1TD, Barksdale 7-13, Roh. Travis 1-5, Alexander 2-2; Abbeville- Cotton 15-61, Ward 2-15, Owens 3-10, J. Grubbs 15-7 1TD, Wiggins 2-2, Sipp 2-2
Individual passing: W.S. Neal- Barksdale 4-7-71 1TD 1INT, J. Smith 1-3-13 1INT; Abbeville- J. Grubbs 2-6-46 1TD 1INT, Wiggins 1-9-18 2INT
Individual receiving: W.S. Neal- Daniel 2-49 1TD, Alexander 2-25, Crane 1-10; Abbeville-Sipp 2-46 1TD, Feggins 1-18
Individual punting: W.S. Neal- J. Smith 1-37, 37.0 avg.; Abbeville- Carter 4-128, 32.0 avg.
Penalties: W.S. Neal 5-35, Abbeville 8-55