St. Helens comes up big in the second half, but runs out of time and healthy players.
At the start of Friday nights game at Sandy, the St. Helens Lions were already short handed. The loss of running back Brennan Norton for the season hurts on offense and defense, but it only got worse. Following the second series, the senior running back Tanner Long was done for the night, and a little while later, back spasms sidelined senior running back Chris Gray.
That left few experienced names for head coach Jared Phillips to call on. Though the Lions (4-2, 0-4 NWOC) battled back and outscored the Pioneers (5-1, 3-1 NWOC) 18-3 in the second half, it was too little too late, and the Lions fell 31-18.
It seemed St. Helens just couldnt catch a break. After getting a pair of sacks and a tipped pass to force a Pioneer punt, the Lions were pinned on their own four yard line. They managed to push forward to the 26 yard line, but had to give up a punt of their own. Spencer Barnett, Sandys elusive quarterback, shot past the St. Helens defense and into the end zone for a touchdown midway through the first quarter to open up the scoring.
The Lions then returned to the field, but without Long. It was an opportunity for some of the younger players to make their marks, as the options continued to dwindle. Gray had a number of carries before he sat down, and then it was time for freshmen Tyler Rea and Myles Terry.
We had two freshmen guys step up. Theyre two freshmen kids I have a lot of respect for, said Phillips. We put them in a difficult situation, and they made the most of their opportunities. I thought they played great.
The Lions were able to run the ball across midfield thanks to a big 19-yard run from Terry and an 11-yard reception a few plays later. The drive stalled, however, and the Lions punted once again. This time they were powerless to stop the legs of Barnett and senior running back Andrew Funk. The two combined for a nine-play, 56 yard scoring drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from Barnett to finish of a drive that impressively stayed on the ground every play.
Midway through the second quarter, St. Helens had their best scoring chance in the first half. Facing a third and seven from the Lions 21 yard line, Barnett dropped a short pass into triple coverage. The intended receiver tipped the pass into the air, and St. Helens defensive back Bryce Bumgardner came down with the interception. However, the exhilaration was short lived. The Lions fumbled the ball, and four plays later C.J. McKinnis walked into the end zone to put the Pioneers up 21-0.
St. Helens gave up another easy touchdown a few minutes later. On fourth and four, Gage Bumgardner faked a punt and pitched the ball to senior lineman Jacob Zartman, who barrelled down the field for the first down. Three plays later, Bumgardner fumbled as he was sacked, setting up a one play, 21-yard touchdown drive from the Pioneers who led 28-0 with just under three minutes left in the half.
The second half was time to shine for Terry. The featured running back on the opening series of the third quarter, Terry carried the ball six times as the Lions moved the ball inside the Pioneers 25 yard line. The drive stalled when a pass fell incomplete, as would the following drive, but senior lineman Corey West pounced on a fumble midway through the third quarter which gave the Lions the ball just 39 yards from the goalline. A few mistakes by the Pioneers moved the ball even further, and St. Helens finally found the end zone as time wound down in the third, an 11 yard pass to Bryce Bumgardner on fourth and eight to put the Lions on the board.
The fourth quarter saw something the Lions hadnt done since last season. Because of injuries, Phillips decided to pull West off the offensive line in favor of a younger player. West lined up as a tight end, his old position, and made a huge 18 yard grab across the middle to move the chains. Bumgardners pass fell incomplete at the back of the end zone a few plays later, but chaos ensued as Pioneers attempted the handoff, causing the ball to go flying up in the air. It came down into the waiting hands of Zartman, who powered his way for the 6 yard touchdown.
I did what we call a stab, I took two steps down upfield, and I got lucky, said Zartman. They fumbled the snap, and it bounced right into my hands.
The Lions attempted an onside kick, which fell into the hands of Sandy, but four plays into the Pioneers drive, backup quarterback Dakota Dixon fumbled the ball, and St. Helens was able to take it 90 yards, capping the drive with an 18-yard touchdown reception by Bryce Bumgardner with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game.
In spite of the loss, Phillips had quite a few positives to take away.
We didnt play well in the first half, but I thought we continued to battle through in the second half, said Phillips. We had some adversity, but we turned it around in the second and played them 18-3 and just didnt have enough toward the end. Just ran out of time. Im proud of the kids, the way they came back and continued to scrap and fight.
A large part of the adversity was the losses of Long and Norton especially, and the team feels the absence in more ways than simply the points on the scoreboard.
[We miss Norton]Greatly. He was our light. He was our leader at linebacker. He was our guy, said Zartman. It sucks not having him out there with us, but I think we pushed through. Some guys stepped up and made some plays. Im really proud of what we had.
St. Helens 0-0-6-12 -- 18
Sandy 14-14-0-3 -- 31
S -- 6:03 Spencer Barnett 9 run (Wyatt Edwards kick)
S -- :55 Barnett 3 run (Edwards kick)
S -- 8:57 C.J. McKinnis 7 run (Edwards kick)
S -- 2:48 McKinnis 21 run (Edwards kick)
SH -- Bryce Bumgardner 11 pass from Gage Bumgardner (kick blocked)
S -- 9:33 Edwards 42 field goal
SH -- 6:18 Zartman 6 fumble return (run failed)
SH -- :19 B. Bumgardner 18 pass from G. Bumgardner (run failed)