Indians assertive in Homecoming win

Published 12:08 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Southampton running back Harrison Ehrenzeller (2) rushes up the middle for a long gain while his fullback Jonathan Hall (32) decleats a defender. The backfield mates combined to rush for more than 170 yards and three touchdowns in Friday night’s win over Surry. -- Murray Thompson | Tidewater News

Southampton running back Harrison Ehrenzeller (2) rushes up the middle for a long gain while his fullback Jonathan Hall (32) decleats a defender. The backfield mates combined to rush for more than 170 yards and three touchdowns in Friday night’s win over Surry. — Murray Thompson | Tidewater News

If Southampton is to make the Virginia High School League playoffs for the second-consecutive season, Friday night’s Homecoming game against Surry will be the game you can pinpoint on the schedule that changed the team’s fortunes. The Indians entered the contest at 1-4, 0-2 in the TriRiver District, but steamrolled the favored Cougars, 38-0, thanks to a tremendous output from the offensive backfield.

“We’re trying to turn the corner,” Southampton head coach Willie Gillus said. “We were much more physical because we thought offensively we needed to be. We went to our power running game, and those guys did a good job behind some good blocking. We had to get better at being physical because we have big, strong guys. We’re not going to try to finesse you. That’s Southampton football. This program has been built on strong running backs and dominant offensive lines, and that hasn’t changed.”

After scoring only six points in last week’s loss to Windsor, Surry elected to receive the opening kickoff in hopes of getting on the scoreboard first. The Cougars needed only one play to march into plus territory when running back Martez Warren busted a run to left side for 21 yards. The Indians’ defense stiffened, though, and defensive end Darius Bell sacked Surry quarterback Darius Savage to turn the ball over on fourth down.

Southampton’s first drive of the contest went nowhere, and ended in disaster when Ethan Blythe’s snap to the punter rolled on the ground long enough for Cougars’ defensive end Malik Knightnor to pounce on it at the 19-yard-line.

The Indians were bailed out on the very next play, though, when Savage overthrew his intended receiver, Khalil Ransome, and instead hit cornerback Rakuan Briggs for his second interception in as many weeks.

“The good thing about him is that he has been practicing really well,” Gillus said of Briggs. “He’s doing the same thing in practice. It’s just reps with him. Two weeks in a row, he’s found the ball in his hands.”

Using the Power I that the Big Red Machine made famous, the Indians’ offense kept the ball on the ground to move right down the field. Running backs Curtis Smith and Harrison Ehrenzeller carried the ball six times for a total of 53 yards, and the former punched it in from four yards out to give Southampton an 8-0 lead with four minutes left in the first quarter.

The key play of said drive came when Briggs, who had quite the night on both sides of the ball, snuck past the defensive backfield on the Indians’ only pass of the drive and hauled in a 57-yard reception on a crucial third down.

“He opened the game up with a big catch,” Gillus said of the two-way star. “We definitely want to get him involved more; we’ve been trying to all year. He’s a kid that if you put the ball in his hands, he can make plays.”

Surry nearly tied the game one play later, when return man Tavon Pettaway took the kickoff up the middle. But Smith, right after crossing the goal line for Southampton, made the touchdown-saving tackle as the only man between Pettaway and the end zone. The Cougars quickly went three-and-out, and punted back to the Indians.

Southampton extended the lead to 16-0 just before halftime, as Smith and Ehrenzeller carried the ball a combined five times for 48 yards. The latter powered it over left guard, the same play on which the former scored earlier, from 4 yards out to cap off the drive.

“We had a couple breakdowns [on previous drives], so it was important to get that score.”

The third quarter was more of the same, as Ehrenzeller carried the ball four times to move over 100 yards rushing on the night. Smith also carried it a couple times to move the Indians into the redzone, and fullback Jonathan Hall took a dive over the goal line to extend the lead to 24-0.

Southampton quarterback Andrew “A.J.” Blunt put a exclamation point on the Indians’ offensive outbreak shortly thereafter, essentially telling the Surry coaches to warm up the buses with a 60-yard run for a score. As the linebackers creeped up to stop the run, Blunt faked the hand off to Ehrenzeller, rolled out and rumbled down the sideline to put the Indians up 30-0.

“He just has to be patient,” Gillus said, explaining that this is only Blunt’s sixth career start. “We’ve been preaching to him that he doesn’t have to try to do everything himself. He’s a young quarterback, and he tries to do it all out there.”

As the fourth quarter began and the dense fog rolled in, the Indians tacked on another score to go ahead 38-0 and start the running clock with 11 minutes remaining. Ehrenzeller, looking at possible Western Tidewater Player of the Week honors, carried the ball three times on the drive for 51 yards and the touchdown. He finished the night with 157 total yards and two touchdowns, while Smith added 66 yards.

Southampton hits the road to play Windsor next week. The Dukes share a mutual win over Surry, but will enter the contest limping after a 46-14 loss to Greensville on Friday night.

“I know they’re a power football team similar to what we saw tonight,” Gillus said of coach Chuck Parrish’s Windsor squad. “What we have to do is not worry about what other people do. We just have to execute our game. If we continue to execute on offense, defense and special teams, we’ll be fine.”