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Nightmare in Newberry

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Red Devils lose in OT

By Travis Coleman

Contributing Writer

Last Friday, the Williston Red Devil varsity football team traveled to take on the Newberry Panthers. The final score was 41-40 in a true heartbreaker for the Devils, as the Panthers won on a gutsy two-point conversion play. Although it is a tough loss, the Devils have no reason to hang their heads, as they played a heckuva game.

 The Panthers received the ball to begin the game. They started with great field position due to a nice return. After three straight runs and one first down, the Devil defense pinned its ears back and forced a turnover on downs by the Panthers.

The first offensive series for the Devils started off well enough. Senior rusher Gerard Williams III (#21) acquired a handful of yards, and junior quarterback CJ Strange (#5) made some nice passes to push the team toward the end zone. Unfortunately, the drive stalled out after Strange missed his mark on a third down. The Devils missed the ensuing field goal on fourth, and the Panthers took back over. After three plays, the first quarter ended with a score of 0-0, but the calm before the storm was about to end.

 A punt from Newberry started the second quarter. The Williston offense was bogged down again and had to punt, but the Newberry return man muffed the kick and Williston recovered for great field position. Three Williams III runs later, and the Devils had the game’s first score. Senior kicker Gavin Wallace’s (#18) point after was good, making the score 7-0 with 9:05 left in the second quarter.

Another good return gave the Panthers good field position to start the drive. Four straight runs resulted in a touchdown, but the point after was missed, making the score 7-6, Devils with 6:32 left in the second.

 The next series for the Devils was a lackluster one. After starting the series poorly, Strange threw a horrible pass, but was bailed out by a pass interference penalty. He did atone for the errant attempt by throwing a great pass to sophomore receiver Jeremiah James (#1) down the sideline to get into the red zone. A first down by Williams III got the Devils inside the 10, but two fumbles (both recovered), and a few rushes for no gain by Williams III resulted in a turnover on downs.

  The turnover wasn’t all bad – it did result in a safety by senior defender Ben Ramos (#30). The score after was 9-6, but the chaos continued. The Newberry kick was  recovered by the kicking team after the Devils failed to make an attempt at it. Luckily, the damage was kept to a minimum as Newberry was forced to punt again.

Williston then proceeded to go three and out, and added insult to injury with a bad snap on the punt, forcing Wallace to have to fall on the ball. Again, the Devils were bailed out as the clock ran out before the Panthers had a real chance at scoring.

 The second half wouldn’t start much better than the first ended. Three plays after receiving the kickoff, Strange threw an interception to give the Panthers the ball right back. The Panthers then gashed the Devils on the ground on the way to their second touchdown of the night. A successful point after made the score 13-9, Newberry with 7:28 left in the third quarter.

A response by the Devils was next on the agenda. After a failed run play, Strange hit senior tight end Albert Fuller III (#12) for a long touchdown. It was a great throw by Strange, but probably an even better effort by Fuller III to reach the endzone. Another successful point after made the score 16-13 in favor of Williston with 6:31 left in the third. The Devils then managed to force a fumble on the kickoff, taking the ball back right when the Panthers thought they were going to be able to respond.

Of course, the Devils managed to shoot themselves in the foot. After one first down, and a few bad plays, Strange was intercepted again. Newberry proceeded to manhandle the Williston defense, running it four straight times for another touchdown. The extra point was put through, bringing the score to 20-16, Newberry with 20 seconds left in the third.

Coming out of the short timeout between quarters, the Devils’ offense came to life. James and Williams III made some great plays to get it in the red zone, and Williams III punctuated the effort with another touchdown run. Wallace again made the kick, putting Williston back on top 23-20.

Newberry came right back though. The Panthers continued to run the ball as they had all night, and again scored a touchdown. They did however, fail to convert the PAT, making their lead only 26-23.

 It was all Williams III on the next drive. He put the team on his back in the final minutes of regulation, racking up yards and drawing a hit out of bounds penalty on the Panthers. The team also benefitted from an offsides call, putting them well within field goal range for Wallace, who made another kick to make the score 26-26 with 22 seconds left.

The following kickoff was almost disastrous. The Panthers broke another long return, but it still didn›t put them in field goal range. They lined up as if they were going to kick it, but faked it instead. The Devil›s covered it well, forcing overtime.

There is no clock in high school overtime. Each offense is given the ball at the 10-yard line, and if they score, the other team must score or else the first wins. If the first team to have the ball doesn’t score, but the second team does, the second team wins.

The Panthers made short work of their first OT possession. They scored in two plays, then converted the extra point, bringing the score to 33-26.

Williston had a slightly more difficult time. After two straight runs, Newberry committed a facemask penalty giving Williston a third and short. They almost ruined their chances of scoring with a delay of game penalty, but Strange and James connected on a beautiful fade pass for a score. Wallace then tied the game at 33-33 with the PAT.

Williston was given the ball again due to the rules of overtime, and scored off a quarterback sneak from Strange. Another good PAT from Wallace made the score 40-33. The night was almost over, but it wouldn›t end with the result Williston had fought for.

 Newberry’s possession started off with a small gain on first down, followed by a run to the two yard line. An offsides penalty by Williston then moved Newberry to the one yard line. A touchdown run followed. Then, the Newberry coach made a risky call. He decided to attempt a two-point conversion to win the game. The attempt turned into a conversion, and the game would end with a final score of 41-40 in favor of Newberry.

While the game was an obvious letdown for a Red Devil team looking to rebound from the prior week's beating, it was a great, and exciting game. The Devils have nothing to hang their heads about.

The loss makes the Devils’ record 2-2. Their next game will be against the Ft. White Indians (3-2) tomorrow night. The game will definitely be a challenge, due to the fact Ft. White is another team that is great at running the football. The Indians have four players with over 30 carries on the year, and two of those players average seven yards a carry. It will be interesting to see if any adjustments are made after getting gashed by the Panthers' rushing attack.

The game will be tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at Booster Stadium. Come out and support the team!

Parting Thoughts

Right Side is the Right Side: I would guess that 90 percent of the Panthers' rushing yards came running to the right side (so the left side of our defensive line). Obviously players rotate through the defensive line all night, but the coaches may want to consider switching up their rotations to prevent opposing teams from taking advantage of a weakness that was blatantly evident (Newberry rushed for 266 yards). It will also help whenever senior linebacker Brent Sheppard (#55) can play again. He was out this game due to injury.

Unbalanced Offense: Obviously Williams III is a monster of a ball carrier. He has been a beast so far this year, and it was no different last night. He rushed for 182 yards on 39 carries with two touchdowns, but he looked worn down at the end of the game. 39 carries is an absurd amount of volume, and it would make sense to give someone like James, or junior Quinyon Mitchell (#14) some more work. A 70-30 percent split between Williams III and the other two would keep everyone fresh, while still giving Williams III a good amount of carries.

Passing Woes: Strange played an alright game, he passed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two ugly interceptions. With the offensive line not pass blocking great, it would make sense to run more short, quick hitting plays, instead of long developing ones like the team continues to do. Especially with the athletes available to the team, quick slants and screen passes make a lot of sense, complimented with a few play action shots down the field. Also, a side note: get rid of the read option (a play where the quarterback decides to keep or hand off the ball to a rusher, and is used throughout college football). It resulted in a handful of fumbles and almost no gain yardage wise on the night.

Beaten Down: At the end of the game, it seemed as if someone was hobbling or cramping up every other play. There isn’t an easy fix for this, as the team has only 26 players available, meaning many of them have to play both ways for much of the game.

Wallace had a pretty good night, as he only missed one kick, but the rest of the special teams struggled mightily. It seemed every return was a huge one, as the Panthers were set up at mid-field numerous times in the game. Adjustments need to be made, as this could make or break the team against an opponent with a truly outstanding return man, or an offense that can capitalize on good field position.