Eagles make it three straight, close in on postseason berth
Published 4:03 pm Monday, October 16, 2006
By BY DANIEL HODGE – SPORTS WRITER
While defense may not have produced a championship yet for the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles, it has them knocking on the postseason door.
W.S. Neal (5-2 overall and 3-2 in Class 4A Region 1) notched its third straight victory and kept the Hillcrest-Evergreen Jaguars winless in the process with a 47-20 victory Friday.
The win puts the Blue Eagles on the doorstep of the playoffs. W.S. Neal can clinch its first trip to the postseason since 2003 if it beats Jackson Friday.
The Blue Eagles defense outscored the Hillcrest offense for most of the game with an interception return for one score and a blocked punt return for another touchdown.
The Jaguars (0-7 overall and 0-5 in region play) managed only 128 total yards. Hillcrest was held to negative rushing yardage most of the game before it broke into positive figures in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Eagles' defense wasted little time before its presence was felt. Hillcrest's offense was faced with a third-and-long early in the first quarter when eighth grade quarterback Justin Nared's pass bounced off of a W.S. Neal's defensive back's helmet and into the arms of Jeremy Brazile. Brazile grabbed the interception and found his way into the endzone.
One area where the Blue Eagles struggled throughout the contest was their conversion game. W.S. Neal failed on four conversion attempts, which included Jamar Travis' failed point after kick attempt with 10:11 left in the first quarter that kept the score at 6-0.
After a successful defensive, the Blue Eagles' offense proved it could find the endzone just as easily. Two consecutive rushes for first downs by Marquis Barksdale and Justin Smith moved the ball to the Hillcrest 13-yard line.
Nate Sheffield covered that distance when he grabbed the handoff and dashed 13 yards across the goal line for the touchdown. A two-point conversion pass from Barksdale to Jonathan Alexander moved the score to 14-0 with 6:55 left in the first quarter.
The Jaguars were once again stopped and forced to punt on their next drive after three runs lost 10 yards.
The Hillcrest offense got another chance when Smith fumbled Derrick Page's punt and the Jaguars recovered at the W.S. Neal 36-yard line.
Despite the special teams miscue, the W.S. Neal defense held firm with its third straight stop.
While the Blue Eagles survived one miscue, they paid when Barksdale's pass was intercepted by Neil Pressley and returned a touchdown.
Several W.S. Neal defenders teamed up and blocked the extra point kick that kept the Blue Eagles' lead at 14-6 with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
A five-play, 59-yard drive by the W.S. Neal offense enabled the Blue Eagles to regain the momentum. The key play came on the first play of the second quarter. Faced with a third down and two from the Jaguars' 32-yard line, Nykeem Barton took the handoff and gained more than enough for the first down on his way to a 25-yard run. Smith found the endzone from seven yards away one play later and swelled W.S. Neal's lead to 20-6. A missed extra point kick kept the score at that margin with 11:21 left in the first half.
The Blue Eagles' offense quickly got the ball back when Smith recovered a Hillcrest fumble at the W.S. Neal 47-yard line.
It took a clutch play for the Blue Eagles to take advantage of the good field position the defense provided. W.S. Neal was faced with a fourth down when Barton hauled in a 25-yard screen pass from Barksdale. Barksdale then went to the air again and found Justin Howard in the endzone for a 19-yard touchdown strike with 5:17 left in the half. A missed two-point conversion attempt failed and left W.S. Neal's lead at 26-6.
While the Blue Eagles special teams struggled with conversions, they helped offset it on the following series when Page had his punt blocked. Derrick Fantroy scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. Barksdale's successful two-point rush took the Blue Eagles' lead up to 34-6 with 2:51 left before the half.
W.S. Neal's defense factored in another score when it forced the Jaguars to turn the ball over on downs again. With just under one minute left before halftime, Barksdale hit Alexander in stride down the right sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. The extra point kick was no good, but the lead was up to 40-6.
While the W.S. Neal offense came up with a lot of plays, it committed a third quarter miscue when Barton fumbled the ball at the Blue Eagles' seven-yard line.
Hillcrest turned that turnover into points when Nared found Blake Bryant in the back of the end zone for the touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the one. A failed two-point conversion left W.S. Neal's lead at 40-12 with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Eagles redeemed themselves on offense when they responded with an eight-play 66-yard scoring march. The drive was capped off when Barksdale found Alexander for the second time in the endzone with a 25-yard scoring toss. Travis booted his first PAT kickoff the game and stretched the lead to 47-12 with 9:42 left.
The Jaguars had their best offensive march of the game on the ensuing series when they used 10 plays to march the distance. The key play of the drive was a 51-yard rush by Derek Smith that moved the ball all the way down to the Blue Eagle one-yard line. Smith topped off the drive one-play later with the one-yard plunge. A successful two-point conversion accounted for the rest of the 47-20 margin.
Like W.S. Neal, the Blue Eagles face a Jackson team Friday at Jackson in a game that is a near-must win for both teams. Jackson (3-4 overall and 2-3 in region play) took top-ranked T.R. Miller down to the wire Friday before it succumbed 38-34.