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Saturday, October 31, 2009

South Survives Trail Scare
J. Chris Tilton

Twin Valley South has not had many easy wins this season. Last Friday was another game where South needed some late game heroics to pull out a victory. It was senior night and several seniors would step up to make big plays against the Blazers. Two players would reach the thousand yard mark during the course of the game. Running back Skylar Reckers broke a thousand yards carrying the ball and Miles McCollum would break a thousand yards for passing the ball. And South would need every yard against the Blazers. During the pregame the seniors honored the memory of Joe Kasserman by placing his jersey at the bench before the end of the season.

There was a strong South wind blowing at the start of the game. And maybe it was just coincidence, but South was likewise strong in the early going. Tyler Leach went 68 yards on the second play of the game for South’s first score. Then South utilized Skyler Reckers from the wildcat formation and he raced 40 yards for another score. Finally a third touchdown was scored by Steve Balthis. Seemingly, South could do no wrong.

And as good as South was playing, Trail just couldn’t get on track – particularly on special teams. One kickoff return went thru the receivers hands and he was tackled at the 7 yard line. A snap went over the punters head and resulted in a safety. Later in the game the punter would ‘whiff’ on a punt and give South good position again. The net result was that by early in the second quarter South was up 23-0 and it was beginning to look like the rout was on. I was thinking that perhaps we could see some clean jerseys playing in the second half.

But Trail under coach Graher is a more resilient team. On their first possession of the second quarter, they drove the length of field thanks in part to a TVS facemask penalty. They capped their drive with an old fashioned hook and ladder play where Danny Dillon would score from about 29 yards out. It was about this time that a familiar nemesis paid a visit. Yep once again the rain came down. South would fumble the ball away, but Balthis would intercept a Blazer pass to end that drive. But late in the quarter Trail would score again. This time aided by a South pass interference call. And at the half the South lead had shrunk, it was 23-12.

The third quarter was all defense as both teams dug in their heels and were stubborn at giving up yardage. South had the best opportunity of the quarter when the Trail punter missed the ball on a kick and South got the ball at the Trail 22 yard line. A Reckers TD run was called back by a penalty and on the next play a Miles McCollum pass was picked off by a Blazer to end the threat.

But after that interception the Blazers drove the length of the field and Day scored from one yard out. Now the South lead had shrunk to just three points. South needed to regain some lost momentum. Seniors Miles McCollum and Skylar Reckers provided that spark on a 62 yard pass play that re-extended the South lead. The South defense likewise responded and ended the next Trail drive, denying a 4th and 4 try. After getting the ball back on downs, it was Reckers who scored again. This time on a 23 yard carry. South had a two score lead – 36 to 20.

But the Blazers were angling for a late game comeback. Danny Dillon caught a pass to get the ball inside the twenty. A hold put them into long yardage where Caleb Wesler caught a pass from Taylor Neal for a touchdown. But the all important two point extra point try was denied. Trail did an onsides kick, but the South hands team recovered the ball. And when South needed one more first down to keep the ball away from the Blazers in the final minute, Tyler Leach delivered with a 7 yard carry to move the chains one last time. So South survived a close one 36-26.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dixie – Madison in Thriller
J. C. Tilton

Dixie and Madison squared off in a thrilling game this past Friday night. A game with twists and turns as momentum went back and forth as each team struggled to get an edge over the other. Each coach gambled and in some cases there was a payoff, other times the results were game changing. The play was exciting as both teams spread out their offenses and featured the passing game. And as in all good thrillers, the outcome was in doubt until the very end.

As has been the case so often this season, if it’s Friday – its raining. So it was a soggy field, although the rain did let up before game time. But that did not stop either team from passing. There were some turnovers, but I think that the players have adapted to the conditions this season and neither squad had an abnormally high number of turnovers for the game. The sidelines were abysmal – I regretted leaving my boots in the car back in the parking lot.

Dixie dominated for the first 18 minutes of the game. A stiff defense and a clock eating offense kept the Mohawks on their heels. Dixie was able to make 2 trips the redzone. Both times they started with great field position. Their first trip was marred when a holding penalty moved the ball back and they then had to try a 35 yard field goal which was short. Their second trip was set up by a Jordan Wilson fumble recovery on the Mohawk 41. Again their drive stalled against a stiff Mohawk defense. They called on Garret Moore’s toe and this time he delivered a 25 yard field goal to put Dixie on the board and into the lead.

Now it was time for a gamble. Dixie tried to surprise the Mohawks with an onsides kick with 4:41 remaining in the half. But they were able to pounce on the ball and get their best field position up to that time. And that seemed to ignite a spark in Madison and their offense began to shred the Dixie defense. In about 5 quick plays they put the ball in the end zone as Mason Conley capped the drive with an 18 yard run. When Dixie got the ball back, they went right back to work and went into gunslinging mode as Luke Bowling connected with Tony Prater for a 34 yard catch. But the next play Mason Conley intercepted the ball. Again Dixie’s defense couldn’t contain Madison and they got a quick score as Tyler Dietz connected with Mark Maloney for the touchdown.

But Conley wasn’t done yet. Dixie had a good return to midfield and hoped to make a score before halftime. Again it was Conley who made a pick and gave Madison the ball back with about a minute and half left in the quarter. But Michael Hall sacked the Madison quarterback and ended their hopes of scoring three touchdowns in 5 minutes. Still Madison went into the locker room feeling confident with a 12-3 lead.

But the Hounds were not done yet. Whatever was said at halftime had an immediate effect. Out of the shotgun, Dixie went to the air and after two long passes to get to the 35 of Madison, Bowling connected with Prater for a touchdown. The two teams exchanged possessions, then Madison caught a gear after Dixie failed to convert on a 4th and 8 on the Madison 25. A couple of deep passes later and Madison was able to re-extend their lead as Maloney was able to catch another pass from Dietz. At this point it was Madison 18 and Dixie 9

Doggedly Dixie stayed on their heels. Michael Hall burst thru the Madison return team on the kickoff for about 55 yards. This gave Dixie excellent field position. John Isaacs caught a Bowling pass and was brought down on the one yard line. Bowling then called his own number and ran the ball in for the touchdown. Dixie was now down by two late in the third quarter 18-16.

Nothing went right for Madison on their next possession. They started on their own 25 yard line after the kickoff. Then had back to back penalties on the next two plays. Facing a third and long deep in their territory, the Madison coach gambled and elected to do a quick kick to surprise Dixie and put the ball back to midfield. The tactic misfired when the kick was blocked and Isaacs landed on the ball in the endzone for the Dixie go ahead touchdown.

But there was still a quarter left to play, so Dixie could not relax. And it looked like Madison would bounce right back when they returned to the Dixie 37. But that series the Dixie defense stepped up and made a big play on 4th and 6 when they sacked the Madison quarterback.

With about 7 minutes left in the game, Madison got the ball back on downs from Dixie at about their own 23 yard line. They methodically moved the ball down the field and into Dixie territory. At one point it looked like the drive would be stopped, but Dixie’s Doogie Hauser was flagged for pass interference. There was no time to mope and Dixie needed someone to step up and make a big play. Now at the 9 yard line, Madison looked to pass again. Who could it be but Hauser who stepped in front of the Madison receiver and made a clean interception. Just as the team bounced back time after time Friday night, Hauser was able to step up and make a play when called upon.

But don’t grab your car keys and leave just yet. There was only 1:03 left, but Madison still had time outs. Which meant that Dixie couldn’t just use the victory formation to run out the clock. If they turned over the ball on downs, Madison could still have time for at least one hail mary pass play. On third and eight, Michael Hall made one last big play for the Hounds. He burst thru the line of scrimmage and rambled all way to the Madison 30 yard line where he was dragged down. Finally the coaches could take off their headsets, relax, and watch as Dixie took a knee with 20 seconds on the clock to preserve their 22-18 victory. This makes Dixie’s record 5-4; next Friday they visit Carlisle.

And I will add a little editorial comment here. I was a little jaded going into the game. Had a long day at work and was talking to my wife on the way to the game. I was complaining that it was another soggy night and that none of the teams that I cover are going to the playoffs. Just wasn't feeling the fire, it was just another game.

But to these players and coaches it was the game as far as they were concerned. No chance at playoffs for either team. But for four quarters they fought and gave it all they had. And seeing the emotion and the spirit of these two teams rekindled that fire. It was worth the trip for me.

...and speaking of fire - what got into the Bengals today??? I want to find out what they had for lunch. I could use some of that.