Jr. Indians win 16-16 game against Cross County

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tribune Sports Staff

Usually when one football team has more than double the plays of their opponent and almost doubles the other team in total yards, a victory is assured…..but not always. Such was the case last Thursday night as the Junior Indians traveled to Cherry Valley to take on the Junior Thunderbirds of Cross County.

Where the Thunderbirds worked the ball all over the field in slow, methodical drives to score 16 points, Marked Tree scored an identical 16 points by way of two lightning bolts, one with less than :30 left, to tie Cross County in their 3AA game.

"The kids never gave up," coach Waylon Dunn said after the game. "They could have laid down when we came to the end of the game, but we didn't."

Both teams came into the game with identical 2-1 records, the Indians' only loss coming to Earle two weeks ago. Early on, it looked as if Marked Tree was going to get their second loss as the Indians fumbled the ball to the Thunderbirds on their opening play.

"We made a lot of mistakes offensively," Dunn continued. "A lot of those came early and it always seemed like we were only one person away from turning something bad into something good."

After they got the opening gift, Cross County proceeded to march the ball down the field, going 40 yards in nine plays to score. After running in the PAT for an additional two points, the Thunderbirds were up 8-0 with less than five minutes elapsed.

On the ensuing kickoff, Quincel Wilson took the ball at the Indian 17 and returned it to the 32. This time the Junior Indians held onto the ball and, with the help of an offside penalty made two of just three first downs they would have for the game, getting the ball to the Thunderbird 48.

At this point, though, the Indians were hit with two quick penalties pushing them back to their own 37 and putting them in a first-and25 situation. Two plays netted only three yards, ending the first quarter and the second period began with Marked Tree looking at third-and-22 from their own 40. Indian quarterback Chris Williams, who would finish the night going 3 of 6 for 113, went back for his first pass and proceeded to throw his only interception of the night.

The Thunderbirds once more took the ball and from the Indian 45, set up to go in for another score. The Indians had something to say about the matter, though, as on the first play from scrimmage, Marked Tree's Kimias Coleman threw the Thunderbirds for a 10-yard loss. It was only a momentary bump in the road for Cross County as they punched the ball to the 17 on the next six plays.

On the seventh play, however, the first lightning strike came when, as they attempted their first pass, Cross County threw the ball into the arms of a leaping Michael Gray at the Indian five-yard line. Tucking the ball away, Gray began to run and he didn't stop until he scampered across the goal line 95 yards away. Willams threw to Wilson for the conversion and the Indians were even with the Thunderbirds, 8-8 and soon after, the half ended.

Cross County took the opening half kickoff and returned it to the Indian 49. Five plays later, they were at the Marked Tree three yard line with a first and goal. And while it took four plays to go those three yards, the Thunderbirds pushed it across and after a successful two-point conversion, went up 16-8 with 3:40 left in the third. Williams took the ensuing kickoff and, after breaking a couple of tackles, nearly answered Cross County's score but stepped out of bounds at the Bird 18.

The Indians could only gain four yards in the next four plays, but an interference call on fourth down gave them new life at the 11. A momentary thrill came on second down when Gray took the ball around left end and just clipped the corner marker to go into the end zone. Unfortunately, the Indians were called for holding and the score was negated. Two plays later, the Birds took over at 10 with less than a minute gone in the quarter and began a 12-play drive which would take up over six minutes.

Cross County used a stump-with-legs named Ricky Jones to pound the ball down the field and the more he ran, the more it looked as if Marked Tree's fate was sealed. At the Indian 12, though, the Tribe bowed their backs and, Ricky Jones not withstanding, allowed only one yard in four plays. With 52 seconds remaining, the Indians had one last chance, and they made the most of it.

"We could have given up right here, but we didn't," Dunn said.

On first-and-10 from the 10, Williams shot a quick pass over the middle to Gray, but he couldn't hold it. The second play was a virtual repeat of the first, but Gray grabbed the ball this time and took off down field with three men close on his heals. They were unable to catch the rabbit, though, and the versatile Indian scored his second TD of the day. However, Marked Tree was still down by two, 16-14.

As might be expected, the Indians decided to go with a proven formula on the PAT and sent Gray over the middle once more where Williams, under heavy pressure, threaded the ball for the score. With 26 seconds left, Cross County took the ball, but could do nothing and the Indians escaped from Cherry Valley with a pseudo-win, 16-16.

The Indians finished the game with only 24 team yards rushing as opposed to 225 yards by the Thunderbirds while passing for a team total of 114 yards, the bulk coming from Gray's last second touchdown. Defensively, Williams and Gray led in tackles with nine each, Gray adding the interception return for a touchdown.

"I was just glad to come away with a tie," Dunn concluded.

Marked Tree will travel to Rector on Thursday to play the Junior Cougars in a 7 p.m. conference game.

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