Loss of Beatty, turnovers help Bears to ravage Warriors 49-26
With 11 players on the field at any one time, the loss of one player in a football game shouldn't make that much difference. However, the turning point of the EPC 49-26 loss to Bearden in the third round of the 2A playoffs Friday night coincided with the game-ending tackle of Warrior junior running back Dustin Beatty.
"He had a shoulder separation." said coach Bryan Harris later. "That play was probably the turning point of the game. We were driving in and going to take the lead 21-14. Then he got hit. They immediately went and scored to take the lead. That seemed to completely change the game."
Beatty had already gained 115 yards on only seven carries against the #2 team in the state when he was smashed at the Bear 13 yard line. The hit was so massive that Beatty, one of the state's leading rushers, instantly lost his grip on the ball, giving Bearden their first real break of the night.
Up to that point, the Warriors had matched the powerful Bears (11-1) blow for blow, in fact taking the opening lead when Carson Tyler recovered a Bearden fumble and returned it for a 6-0 lead. Beatty kicked the extra point to put the Warriors up 7-0.
Bearden quickly responded to tie the game 7-all.
To show the offense could score points as well, when EPC got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff, Beatty showed the speed which has dazzled and dazed opposing defenses the entire season, going 62 yards to the Bears seven. Two plays later, Tyler scored his second TD of the night from the four. Beatty again kicked the point after to give the Warriors a 14-7 lead with 8:03 left in the first period.
"It was good when we scored the first time on a recovered fumble" continued Harris. "But they probably thought that touchdown was just a fluke and that it would be the only time we would score. But, when we scored again to make it 14-7, I think that kind of surprised them. If we'd scored again to make it 21-14, I think that would have put them into shock."
Unfortunately, the ones left in shock were the Warriors after it became clear that Beatty would not return to the game. With his loss, the Bears proceeded to score 28 unanswered points on runs of 74, 33, five, and 45 yards.
"We missed Beatty on offense, of course," said Harris. "But we missed him on defense as well because with his speed he was able to run down a lot of the players. When he was injured we lost that."
During the same 23:00 Bearden was racking up their points, EPC drove into Bears' territory three times getting as close as the Bear 25. Unfortunately, they were halted each time, once by interception, once by their second fumble of the night and once on downs.
With some eight minutes left in the game, the Warriors finally got another break when Lando Bass returned a nearly straight-up punt for 22 yards and a first down at the Bearden 19. It took seven plays to get the ball over the goal line, including a fourth and four conversion pass from Tyler to Bucky Chamberlin. Bass carried the last two yards for the TD with 5:48 left in the game. The PAT failed moving the score to 42-20.
Bearden added another TD on a two-yard run with 2:47 left in the game.
The Warriors ended their season scoring the final TD, however, as Byron Ford went in from the five with :13 showing.
"The bottom line is that you can't turn the ball over five times against a team like that and have any chance to win." said Harris. "I wouldn't call Beatty's an unforced error, but the rest were where we just dropped the ball without being touched and things like that. They were strong and physical and athletic. But we stayed right in there with them until Beatty got hurt and even after that we moved the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot too much."
Ford gained 43 yards on 12 totes while catching two passes for 43 yards. Workhorse Bass rushed seven times for 43 yards.
Besides Ford's catches, Chamberlin led the receiving with five grabs for 43 yards. Hayden Weathers closed out the receiving with one catch for 17 yards.
Tyler passed 18 times, completing eight for 86 yards total.
"We had a great year," concluded Harris. "I think we surprised a lot of people. At the beginning of the season no one picked us to finish first in our conference much less make it to the quarter-finals of the state tournament. It's a tribute to how much these kids we were wanting to win. They were able to focus on each game, get prepared for that game and not look down the road. And we just had a great job of senior leadership."