Special teams can oftentimes be overlooked in the grand scheme of a football game. Everybody remembers the flashy touchdown passes from the star quarterback and monstrous hits from the ferocious linebacker, but what happens in the time when neither offense nor defense is on the field can impact a game just as greatly.
That happened on Friday night when the Greenbrier Bobcats visited the Sycamore War Eagles, claiming a 21-9 victory on the road.
Both defenses held strong through the first several possessions – in fact, Greenbrier did not even get a first down until their fifth possession – leading to a 0-0 tie after the first quarter. However, the War Eagles drove down the field off a few darts from quarterback Grady McPherson and reached the 12-yard line, but their field goal attempt was blocked.
On the very next possession, Sycamore’s Nathaniel Havens intercepted a Stoney Smith pass at the goal line during the Bobcats’ first drive to cross midfield and the War Eagles appeared to have all the momentum.
At least before the first play after the interception resulted in a fumble with their backs at the goal line, that is. The scramble to recover the ball kicked it out of the end zone resulted in a Greenbrier safety, giving them their first two points and the ball. The Bobcats scored on their next possession thanks to a handful of Smith scrambles before Izik Rector punctuated the drive with an eight-yard score.
That chain of events started a 21-0 run with every point coming during or after a turnover, paving the way to a Bobcat victory.
“Sycamore plays a great defense, truly,” said Greenbrier head coach John Elmore. “They got after it. They controlled the line of scrimmage early in the game. Rust is part of it, but I think it’s more of them controlling the game early on. As the game went on, we were able to wear them down a little bit and start moving the ball with a little more consistency.”
GHS scored on another special teams victory shortly thereafter – this time a punt blocked by Nathan Robinson and returned to the house by Rector for his second touchdown of the night. A 29-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Silas Page served as the dagger after Braxton Laney intercepted McPherson. SHS managed one more score on a 17-yard pass from McPherson to Houston Hudspeth, but they eventually ran out of time to climb back in.
Sycamore coach Mark Hall cited his team’s lack of in-game experience from the offseason as a reason for their shaky opening night. The War Eagles didn’t have any preseason scrimmages, leaving them to only play against each other, making the step into actual action a big one. That said, he does believe the loss will make them better in the long haul.
“We got better because we got to hit people and we had competition and we saw some strengths, we saw some weaknesses and we’re going to go work on our weaknesses and come back next week and come back better than we were this week,” Hall said.
Those weaknesses, of course, boiled down mainly to special teams to the point where Hall thinks the outcome could have been different had they not had multiple punts and kicks blocked.
Elmore concurred. In a game decided by 12 points, he cited the blocked punt and ensuing recovery as the key to their victory. And during a season in which nothing is guaranteed like this, every win they can get means a little bit more.
“I’ve been here long enough now, about 30 years of football coaching, you enjoy every win because winning is hard,” Elmore said. “To lose, all you have to do is show up. To win, everything has to come together. Even when things don’t go perfectly on the field, things have to come together… Never, never, never take a win for granted.”
The Bobcats will host the Creek Wood Red Hawks (1-0) on Friday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. after a bye week. Sycamore looks to earn their first win on Aug. 28 when they welcome the Davidson Academy Bears to Pleasant View.