Indians unable to avenge playoff loss

Published 11:03 am Saturday, August 29, 2015

Southampton junior quarterback Andrew “A.J.” Blunt is corralled by a Poquoson defensive lineman in the opening quarter of Friday’s contest. The Islanders blanked the Indians, 42-0, on the way to their ninth-consecutive victory in the series. -- Frank Davis | Tidewater News

Southampton junior quarterback Andrew “A.J.” Blunt is corralled by a Poquoson defensive lineman in the opening quarter of Friday’s contest. The Islanders blanked the Indians, 42-0, on the way to their ninth-consecutive victory in the series. — Frank Davis | Tidewater News

In a rematch of last year’s Virginia High School League Division III first round playoff matchup, the Poquoson Islanders defeated the Southampton Indians, 42-0. The season opener marked the Islanders’ ninth-consecutive victory over the Indians leading back to their days as Bay Rivers District rivals — including the aforementioned 28-6 playoff contest.

“We just got off to a slow start and they beat us to the punch everywhere on the football field,” Southampton head coach Willie Gillus said. “They ran the football, and when we stopped the run, [they threw the ball] and we’d have a breakdown in the secondary. Too many breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and I’m sure when I see the film, that’ll be what  I see. Just too many breakdowns.”

The only thing the Indians won on this particular evening was the coin toss, which they elected to defer option until the second half. From there, a 14-yard return by Poquoson’s Chuck Hess on a short kickoff set the Islanders up with great field position at the 42-yard-line. A run up the middle by halfback Cole Jackson and an end around by receiver Nathan Ward pushed Poquoson across midfield and into Southampton territory.

In the same formation, fourth-year starting quarterback Trey Hicks faked the end around and threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Matthew Blaser. The 6-foot-1-inch speedster, who is one of the Islanders’ 19 returning starters, ran a streak behind cornerback Deonte Jenkins and safety Harrison Ehrenzeller for the score. Gillus said that the broken coverage and late recognition of the offensive formation were two of his main concerns moving forward.

“[We] just have to go back and work at it,” Gillus said. “That’s what practice is for. It’s to correct mistakes like that. We had too many mistakes in regard to assignments and missing too many tackles on defense.”

Southampton’s first drive of the season did not start off as well as their opponent’s when kick returner Tyrik Mason bobbled the ball at the goal line and only managed to scramble to the 9-yard-line. Ehrenzeller, who also plays running back, helped the Indians get out of the shadow of their own goal post with a pair of strong runs to start the drive. A read option pass from Andrew “A.J.” Blunt, who inherited the job from the departed Russell Ballance, went for a pickup of 21 yards to cross midfield. A short run and two-consecutive sacks stalled the drive, however, and the Indians punted the ball back to the visitors.

Poquoson nearly blocked the punt, and quickly took advantage of the great field position. On the second play of the drive, Hicks — chased out of the pocket by a blitzing Ehrenzeller — found Jackson wide open for a 33-yard pass that put the Islanders inside the Southampton 10-yard-line. Ward, who rushed for 709 yards and 10 touchdowns one season ago, subsequently punched it in from nine yards out to give the Islanders a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter.

Blunt, given subpar field postion again, did his best to move the Indians down the field. He scrambled away from pressure and found receiver Rakuan Briggs for a gain of 11. Nearing midfield, the drive began to stall when the latter was unable to haul in a couple passes in front of the home sideline. Facing a fourth-and-short situation, the Indians attempted to convert, but Poquoson’s Gunnar Ogburn make a spectacular leaping tackle to pull the dual-threat quarterback down by his jersey three yards short of the to-go line.

“He had to scramble a lot,” Gillus said of his quarterback. “Didn’t have many chances to set his feet, but when he did, he made good throws and made the right throws.”

Taking over at their own 41-yard-line, Poquoson’s Hicks threw a quick hitch to Blaser to move into Southampton territory. Tack on a personal foul, blow to the head penalty and the Islanders were in the red zone once again. Three defensive stops gave the Indians hope, but a screen pass against a blitzing front allowed the road team to pick up the first down for a goal-to-go situation. Two plays later, a corner fade to receiver Brandon Peck put the visitors up 21-0.

The Indians were plagued by drops on the next drive, as well, when Briggs let the ball slip off his fingertips on a perfect deep ball from Blunt.

A quick three-and-out gave the ball back to Poquoson, who pushed its lead to 28 at halftime with a two-play, 60-yard touchdown drive. A little more than three minutes remained in the half when Hicks hit Kyle Poultney, who weaved in and out of Southampton defenders on his way to a 42-yard touchdown. Hicks finished the game with 171 yards passing on nine attempts.

“We tackled too high,” Gillus said. “Repetition and correct the breakdowns. Look at the film and go back at it. We can’t trade the loss in, so we just keep working with the kids and we’ll be fine.”

Southampton had a promising drive to open the second half, as Briggs got things started with a 30-yard kickoff return. Senior tight end Darius Bell, who also stars on the basketball team, made his first catch of the evening when the coaches finally decided to use his height over the linebackers to their advantage. At midfield, however, the Poquoson defense stifled the run and forced Southampton to punt. A false start negated a booming kick, and the Islanders nearly blocked the second attempt, creating a 30-yard differential advantage in field position to start their next drive.

A 19-yard run by Cole Jackson capped a four-play drive to give the visiting team a 35-0 lead and start a running clock. Southampton struggled to get anything going, and Poquoson methodically melted the clock with three- and four-yard runs for the remainder of the contest. Ward barreled into the endzone for his second score of the night shortly after the fourth quarter began to give the Islanders their final points of the contest.

Southampton had one final hurrah in the waning minutes, as Ehrenzeller ran for 14 and 15 yards on consecutive plays to move the Indians into Poquoson’s side of the field. Blunt then hit Briggs for 27 yards to the 9-yard-line. The Indians were unable to capitalize, however, when Ogburn and the Poquoson defensive line took control and swarmed Ehrenzeller for a loss on fourth down.

“Not too many things went well,” Gillus said, “but I saw some young guys play well at the end, though.”

The Indians remain at home for their next contest, playing host to Charles City. The Panthers, who lost to Cumberland, 22-8, on Friday night, are very similar to Poquoson, Gillus said.

“They’re team with a lot of speed, a lot of skill guys and a big offensive line. Pretty much what we saw tonight.”