Jr. Warriors use big plays to stay undefeated in victory at Salem
"They were the biggest and most physical team we've played so far."
Those words by coach Brian Weathers fairly well summed up the battle his EPC junior Warriors had at Salem last Thursday night. By the time it was over, the Warriors had to use two kickoff returns and a trick play to get enough points to defeat the junior Greyhounds, 28-24.
The Hounds got the ball first and wasted no time marching it 70 yards down the field to take an 8-0 lead after the conversion.
"They ran it right down our throats," continued Weathers. "It was like there wasn't anything we could do. They were getting four and five yards at a time, and they simply manhandled us up front. We knew after that drive that it was going to be a physical game."
Where it took the Greyhounds nearly 2/3 of a quarter to score their first TD, the Warriors came back and went a farther distance in one fell swoop with Dray Young's return for 79 yards for a touchdown. The conversion failed, but EPC (4-0, 4-0 2A-3) was back close at 8-6.
"After this we really made some adjustments on defense," Weathers said. "I give coach (Josh) Hill credit for that. He moved our two inside linebackers, Young and A.J. Turner to defensive end to help us on the off-tackle plays. They just pounded us there before we made the move."
The adjustments worked and the Warriors forced the Hounds to punt.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, EPC ran a wide receiver reverse pass with Turner throwing to Kyle Kelly for 28 yards and the TD with 1:12 left to play in the half. The conversion failed again, but EPC led 12-8.
Austin Price intercepted the ball on Salem's final drive to eliminate any chance for the Hounds to score before the half ended.
The second half began with a bang as Turner took the opening kickoff at the 19 and returned it 81 yards for the Warriors third touchdown.
"We ran the old 'swinging gate' play on the conversion," said the coach. "(running back) Shelton Leija threw to (quarterback) Wendell Pritchett for the score."
Even though they led 20-8 Weathers and his staff were far from comfortable with the lead. And, as it turned out, with good reason because Salem stormed back with a vengeance.
In short order, the Hounds scored again to make it 20-16. But the Warriors followed this with what looked as if it was going to be the biggest drive of the night.
Indeed it was, but when EPC reached the Salem, 10 yard line, Pritchett went back to pass, but was sacked. To make matters worse, as he was going down, the ball fell from his grasp, Salem recovered and they returned it to the Warrior two.
They had little problem punching it in from there and with the two-point play they took back the lead, 24-20.
With the fourth quarter clock ticking, EPC was forced to punt on the next possession. Moments later, though, Ryan Tyler picked off a Salem pass and returned it to the Hound 11. On the first play, Young rammed it in for the score then followed that up by receiving the conversion pass from Pritchett for the 28-24 final score with 3:51 left to play.
"We managed to hold them on their final drive and the ball went back to us. We ran off all, but the last four seconds and it went to them for one play," said Weathers in summing up the final minutes of the game. "They threw a desperation pass, but Turner intercepted to end the game."
Young finished the game with 56 yards on 10 carries as well as three receptions for 29 yards. Pritchett was 4-of-7 through the air for 51 yards, plus he had a reception for three yards. Leija carried four times for 27 yards and was 1-of-1 passing for three yards. Turner finished with once reception for 23 yards.
"We weren't able to move the ball offensively, but we did run back two kicks and had the trick play which scored for us." concluded Weathers. " Plus the interception by Tyler and the run back ended in a score.
We had to step it up on defense a whole lot and we did with a fumble recovery and three interceptions. It was a tremendous win for us. "
With the forfeiture of Rector's season, the Warriors have a second open date tomorrow, but will have a scrimmage game to keep the players in game form. Game time is 7 p.m.