Four turnovers too much for Eagles
Published 8:09 pm Sunday, November 19, 2006
By BY DANIEL HODGE – SPORTS WRITER
A big question W.S. Neal Blue Eagles coach Blaine Hathcock asked about his team prior to the start of the postseason was whether or not his club could win a low-scoring game.
It turned out they could not when they needed to the most, as the Blue Eagles saw their season come to an end with a 24-14 loss at home to the Trinity Presbyterian Wildcats in Friday's second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Four turnovers proved too much for W.S. Neal (9-3) to overcome, as Trinity (10-2) punched its quarterfinal round ticket for a date at Thomasville this coming Friday.
The four turnovers the Blue Eagles committed proved costly especially late in the game. Each of the damaging W.S. Neal turnovers came after lengthy drives down the field. The most costly giveaway came with just over three minutes left in the game when Trinity recovered a Blue Eagles fumble after a mishandled snap on a third-and-short deep inside its own territory.
Friday's game was one filled with much emotion. It was just over a year ago when W.S. Neal ended the Wildcats' 45-game regular season winning streak with a stunning 7-6 upset victory at Montgomery.
While W.S. Neal's defense played well all night, it was a tale of two halves for its offensive unit. The Wildcats' defense held the potent Blue Eagles attack, which had been averaging nearly 39 points a game, to less than 100 yards of total offense for the first half. W.S. Neal tallied 13 first downs and racked up almost 250 yards in offense over the final two quarters.
Trinity had a chance to dent the scoreboard on its first offensive possession after the Blue Eagles went three-and-out on the game's first offensive series.
The Wildcats, who began from their own 45-yard line, drove all the way to the W.S. Neal 11-yard line where it stalled. The Blue Eagles forced Trinity to settle for a 28-yard field goal attempt by Drew Stokely, but Stokely's kick bounced off where the cross bar and upright connect and was no good.
W.S. Neal's first serious offensive threat on the ensuing series also came up empty. After a pair of rushes netted no gain, the Blue Eagles were confronted with a third-and-long situation when Marquis Barksdale found Jonathan Alexander down the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain. The duo hooked up once again two plays later down the middle of the field for a 31-yard gain. While that pass took the ball down to Trinity's 25-yard line, the Blue Eagles were unable to get any closer. The drive eventually ended on downs after an incomplete pass on fourth down.
While Trinity was unable to generate any points on its following series, it created some field position combined with Whit Mitchell's punt that was downed at the Blue Eagles' 11-yard line.
Unable to pick up a first down, W.S. Neal was forced to punt from deep in its own territory. Despite a 40-yard punt by Justin Smith, Trinity took over on its next series just inside its own territory at the 43-yard line.
This time the Wildcats took advantage of their great field position. Austin Morris' 14-yard completion to Zack Shaw and a defensive penalty took the ball to W.S. Neal's 37-yard line. From there, Morris found Rich Richardson down the right sideline for the 37-yard touchdown. The extra point kick by Stokely gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 8:47 left in the first half.
The Blue Eagle's offense was given two more shots at a first half score, but were denied both times. Justin Smith was forced to punt on the first series and Barksdale's pass was intercepted by Shaw on the second possession.
While W.S. Neal's offense struggled to find its form in the first half, the defense kept the Wildcats within striking distance. That trend carried over into Trinity's first series of the second half where the Blue Eagles forced the Wildcats into a three-and-out.
W.S. Neal, which began its first second half possession from its own 38, looked like a completely different team when it needed just five plays to march 62 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Five rushes yielded five first downs on the series, as Barksdale carried twice for 25 yards and Nykeem Barton ran three times for 37 yards, which included a seven-yard touchdown dash into the end zone. Akeem Green's PAT kick tied the score at 7-7 with 9:07 left in the third frame.
The Wildcats were not to be outdone, as they responded with a touchdown drive of their own. A 22-yard pass from Morris to Shaw moved the ball to the Blue Eagles' 32-yard line. After two short rushes by Shaw netted five yards and an incomplete pass, Trinity faced with a fourth down at W.S. Neal's 27-yard line.
Instead of a long field goal attempt or an attempt to pin the Blue Eagles deep with a punt, Trinity opted to go for it and it paid big dividends when Morris found Craig down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown strike. Stokely's extra point attempt was good and put the Wildcats back in front 14-7 with 7:07 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Eagles answered Trinity's touchdown drive with one of their own. The drive got much of its spark when Smith broke loose for a 30-yard run and Trinity was whistled for a personal foul penalty.
Barton's five-yard run took the ball to the Wildcats' 19-yard line, but Wildcat two consecutive offensive penalties pushed W.S. Neal back to the Trinity 29. The Blue Eagles opted to make something happen in the air and they were successful when Barksdale hit Smith down the middle of the field for the 29-yard score. Green's PAT was good and tied the game at 14-14 with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
W.S. Neal missed an opportunity to take the lead after its defense came up with a stop. The Blue Eagles offense drove from their own 35 to the Trinity 24. The key sequence was a 10-yard run by Barton followed by a personal foul penalty on the Wildcats.
The turnover bug kept the Blue Eagles from taking the lead when Griffin Littlefield leaped and intercepted Barksdale's pass at the 15-yard line.
Another stop by W.S. Neal's defense gave the offense another chance when it took over at its own 37-yard line after a punt by Mitchell.
Barton and Smith, which proved to be a deadly one-two punch all season, ran the ball to the Trinity 30-yard line when the turnover bug bit the Blue Eagles again. W.S. Neal faced a fourth down situation when Littlefield intercepted Barksdale again.
The turnover did more than just keep W.S. Neal from scoring. Littlefield nearly returned it the length of the field before Barton hauled him down from behind at the Blue Eagles' five-yard line.
Despite having its back against the wall, W.S. Neal's defense came up with a goal line stand and forced the Wildcats to settle for a 26-yard field goal attempt. Stokely atoned for his earlier miss, as he split the uprights and gave the Wildcats a 17-14 lead with 5:54 left in the contest.
W.S. Neal, which took over at its own 36, quickly got the ball into Trinity territory. Two rushes by Barton tallied 10 yards and Barksdale followed with a 12-yard gain. Barton moved the ball down to the Trinity 33-yard line after two additional rushes produced nine yards. Faced with a third-and-short, Barksdale mishandled the snap and the Wildcats recovered at their own 34.
While Trinity was unable to run out the clock, it did something that was just as effective. It scored again.
W.S. Neal had the Wildcats in a third-and-short situation when Shaw grabbed the handoff and picked the first down plus more on his way to a 28-yard run.
The Blue Eagles later had Trinity in a third-and-short situation again, but Shaw took the reverse pitch and dashed 25 yards for the deciding blow. Stokely's PAT moved the score to 24-14 with just 1:09 left.