Game-ending brawl mars dominating Tribe performance of Earle, 22-8
Tribune Sports Staff
"This game is over. Marked Tree is the winner, but there are going to be sanctions on both teams."
So was the edict of Referee Troy Cox Thursday night as he declared Marked Tree the 22-8 winner of a fight-shortened, non-conference contest. What had begun as a highly anticipated ball game, turned into a brawl by early in the fourth period as the Earle bench and then the Marked Tree bench emptied onto the field.
"We played a heck of a game up till they called it (the game)," Indians' coach Tim Branum said later. "We stuffed them on defense and were just simply handing it to 'em."
The "sanctions" referred to by Cox were expected to be handed down earlier this week and would probably involve at least one game suspensions for some players. At press time, however, word had not been received by Marked Tree schools yet.
The game began well enough for the Indians as they forced Earle into a four and out situation, taking possession of the ball at the Bulldog 45 after the punt. Seniors Marcus McKay and Brian Coleman alternated running the ball over the next eight plays as they proceeded down to the Earle 11.
Here, the Indians laid the ball on the ground, though, giving the 'Dogs a reprieve. Earle took advantage of the mistake, putting their single wing formation in motion, plowing to the Indian 46 over the next eight plays. Here, though, the Bulldogs returned the favor and fumbled the ball back to the Tribe.
Not satisfied with just recovering the ball, Clint Hawkins scooped the ball into his hands and rambled the distance for his second fumble return for a TD on the season. With McKay's PAT, Marked Tree drew the first blood, 7-0 with 2:45 remaining in the period.
The remainder of the first quarter proved uneventful as Earle took the ball from their 27 to the 47. On the first play of the second period, they gave Marked Tree another gift, but the Tribe couldn't take advantage of the situation and kicked the ball back to the visitors at their 22.
With the help of a face mask penalty, Earle drove up to the 50 where the battering Indian defense made them cough up the ball once more.
From the 'Dog 46 McKay went for no gain, them Coleman bruised his way for five to bring up a third and five from the Earle 41. Neither team had thrown a pass so far, but the time seemed ripe for a strike.
As a result, quarterback William Ruthven rolled out to his right and made a perfect connection with a wide-open Tyler Blagg who loped in for the Indians' second score of the night. McKay split the uprights once more and the Tribe's stock rose higher 14-0 with 7:01 showing on the clock.
The Bulldogs took the ball at their 42 on the ensuing kickoff and proceeded on their best drive of the night. Twelve plays later, they were looking at a fourth and eight from the Indians' 25.
Famous for their deft ball handling, Earle then gain 18 yards to the seven on a perfectly executed reverse. One play and a two-point conversion later, they had reduced the margin by six to 14-8 with :45 remaining in the half.
The Indians took the ball to start the third period, but like their opponents in their first drive of the game, went four and out. After Ruthven's punt, the Bulldogs took three plays to go from the 50 to the Indian 44 where the went for it on fourth and four.
Marked Tree's defense showed why they are considered to be one of the best in the AA division by holding Earle for no gain, taking the ball again at their own 44. The Tribe wasted no time going the distance in ten plays on the running of sophomore Michael Gray, McKay and Coleman who went the final four yards for the score.
Ruthven then passed to Blagg for a two-point conversion and what would turnout the be the final tally of 22-8 at the 3:59 mark of the third.
Earle wasn't about to lay down and just blow away, though, as they made another run at the Tribe goal line.
They began the drive by nearly breaking the kickoff return for the distance, finally being stopped at the Indian 39. Even though there was plenty of time left, apparently the 'Dogs felt that they had little chance against the Tribe ground defense, so they took to the air for the first time on the night.
Senior Traveon Powell put himself in perfect position twice and batted down Bulldog bombs, but on the second one the Tribe was called for roughing the passer giving Earle the ball at the Marked Tree 24.
Two more plays later, Earle had another first and ten at the hosts' 13. Two more plays brought up a third and three at the six, but then Earle tried some sort of unconventional shift involving everyone but the center and were called for illegal procedure. With third and eight from the 11, a run for no gain and another incomplete pas gave Marked Tree the ball for one final play in the third period.
Ruthven made the most of that opportunity, scrambling for 25 yards to the Indian 36 where the fateful fourth period began.
The quarter opened with Marked Tree fumbling the ball right back to their opponents and Earle was alive again at the Tribe 37. On first down they went 17 more yards to the 20, then four where on second and six the 'Dogs were assessed a holding penalty.
With a second and 26, Earle tried their final pass of the night and it was cleanly picked off by Powell at the Tribe six. He was about to go down with the ball when he apparently heard teammate Brandon Stacy behind him yelling for the ball.
So Powell alertly lateraled to Stacy who proceeded to return he ball to the Earle 49. Coleman went seven hard yards to the 42. Then on the next play Earle was assessed with a personal foul putting the ball first and 10 on the 39.
The next play was the last play of the game as the Earle squad seem to just be standing around letting the Indians do whatever they wanted to. The fact that they weren't pursuing the ball was obviously disconcerting to the Tribe who were being yelled at to run the ball in.
Ruthven, who last ended up with the ball was suddenly tackled at the 39 where the referees stopped the play. But, then in succession a number of Bulldogs hit various Indians casing flags to fly from everywhere.
Moments later, both teams were on the field going at each other in virtually anyway they could while officials, coaches and some spectator attempted to bring order to the situation. Some five minutes later, the teams finally were separated and the coaches were consulting with both school officials.
For one of the few times on the year, Coleman was held under 100 yards, gaining 70 yards on 15 carries. He was followed by Ruthven who went 34 yards on two rushes and McKay who gained 21 on five carries. Gray closed out the ground game with 16 yards on three carries.
In passing, Ruthven threw only twice completing one to Blagg for 41 yards and a TD.
In total, Earle actually gained more yards than the Indians, 196 to 182 and ran more plays, 49 to 36 plus had fewer penalties at 6 to five. The Indians won where it counted, though, and now, with a bye for the playoffs, await the winner of the Mineral Springs-Strong game this Friday to see who they will be taking the field against next.