Penalties mar play as Tigers outlast Indians

Published 1:27 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

What the Indians lacked in experience, they made up for with heart as Southampton High School took Sussex Central High School to the final whistle in a heartbreaking 26-20 TriRivers District VHSL loss in Courtland on Friday night.

The football game wasn’t particularly well played by either team, as each side gave away 105 yards in penalties, 16 that were called on Sussex and 15 on Southampton. And for nearly the entire first half the game was played between the 30-yard lines, neither team able to pose a serious scoring threat. The Sussex Tigers started the game with the ball, but were forced to punt after three penalties — including two sideline warnings against coach Curtis Jefferson and one for an illegal blow to the head.

Southampton took possession on their own 45-yard line, but after a high snap in shotgun formation went over the head of the Indians’ starting quarterback senior Russell Ballance, Sussex recovered the ball near midfield. Possession of the ball wasn’t the only thing the Indians lost on the play, as Ballance landed awkwardly on his ankle going after the ball and was done for the night.

After another Sussex punt, Southampton’s backup, sophomore quarterback A.J. Blunt took over the Indians’ signal calling duties. His first couple of drives under center were marred by penalties, and he was unable to muster much forward movement in the teams’ next few drives. Sussex didn’t have much more success moving the ball, except for the assistance provided by Southampton’s defense. On Sussex’s final three offensive plays of the opening quarter, the Indians’ defensive line was flagged for three consecutive offsides penalties.

Sussex finally got on the board late in the second quarter. On a drive that began on their own 34-yard line, the Tigers put together a six-play scoring drive capped by an 18-yard run by senior running back Churrio Scott. The two-point conversion failed, and with 4:08 left in the first half, the Sussex led the Indians 6-0.

Southampton, determined from the start to keep the game close, struck back in lightning quick fashion. Starting their next possession with a short field, taking over on offense after the kickoff at their own 45-yard line, the Indians found the endzone in less than a minute. Senior running back Coby Williams ran for 21 and 34 yards on two consecutive carries, the second one landing him in the endzone with 3:10 left in the quarter. Williams converted the short two-point conversion attempt, and The Indians took an 8-6 lead.

Sussex, not content to go into halftime without the lead, marched right back down the field, engineering a 10-play, 55-yard drive that saw quarterback Malik Delk dive in from the 1-yard line with 19 seconds left in the half.Scott added the two-point conversion to give the Tigers what would be a 14-8 lead at halftime, but not before Sussex recovered an onside kick at the Indians’ 30 and completed a 29 yard pass that came up just short of the endzone as time expired.

Sloppy play continued into the second half, as both teams continued to hurt themselves with penalties. But on Southampton’s second possession of the third quarter, the Indians marched down the field, capping a 76-yard drive with an 8-yard scoring run by Cody Williams. The conversion failed, but score was now tied at 14-14 with 3:54 left to play in the third.

The Tigers answered right back on their next possession, moving the ball down the field on a 10-play, 60 yard drive that was capped off by a 20-yard touchdown run by Delk. The failed conversion left the Tigers with a 20-14 lead over Southampton with 11:10 to play in the game.

It briefly appeared that the Indians had drawn even, but a 54-yard touchdown run by Williams was called back for an illegal use of hands penalty. Unable to convert a first down, the Indians gave the ball back to Sussex, who quickly moved the ball 70 yards on six plays. The final play of the drive was a 35-yard run by Delk, who took a bootleg around the right side and outran the defense to the endzone.

With only 5:31 to play, it appeared Southampton was finished.

However, when the Tigers turned the ball back over on downs with only a minute left to play, A.J. Blunt connected on two quick passes, the second a 37-yard touchdown strike to junior wideout Deonte Briggs. The conversion failed, and Southampton trailed 26-20 with 14 seconds to play.

The Indians, who didn’t give up for the first 47:46 of the game, had no plans to roll over and play dead with one opportunity left. When they attempted an onside kick, their perseverance paid off as they recovered the ball at midfield with 13 seconds left to play. But the miracle comeback wasn’t to be, as Blunt’s first pass attempt downfield was deflected, and the second intercepted as time expired.

After the game, head coach Willie Gillus was clearly proud of his teams’ effort.

“This is a young group of guys,” Gillus said.“It will be important for them to keep their heads up because this will be a tough one to overcome.”

For the game, the Indians were led on offense by Coby Williams, who ran for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns and A.J. Blunt, who had 56 rushing yards and was 5 of 10 passing for 115 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception. Sussex’s offense was led by Scott, who ran for 150 yards and one touchdown, and Delk, who ran for 111 yards, three touchdowns and was 11 for 14 passing with 121 yards.

Sussex improves to 3-1, while Southampton falls to 0-4.