Elkton finally breaks through
Special to the Whig
Joe Scuderi vividly recalls the long trip back from North Caroline a year ago.
The Bulldogs ended Elkton’s season with a dominant 36-15 victory in the 2015 2A East Region title game. It wasn’t the finish the Golden Elks, who lost just one game all season heading into that contest, had in mind.
“I remember on the bus ride home, just feeling devastated,” said Scuderi, senior linebacker and captain. “We got back in the weight room and grinded all season. We’ve been working since our loss last year.”
Elkton returned a solid core, and when it was revealed that the Elks would face North Caroline again in the regional final, they only had one word on their mind: redemption.
Elkton head coach Matt Feeney saw the resolve in his players’ faces all week in practice.
“They didn’t forget,” he said. “They reminded themselves of it in the offseason and in the weight room. They wrote the date down. When we found out we’d be playing them and it was going to be here, the message was clear. We experienced the taste and now we know what it takes to win. I had zero doubts that the guys weren’t going to come out and fight for their lives tonight.”
With the frenzied home crowd behind them, the Elks turned last year’s result on its head with a 33-20 win. After being stifled by the Bulldog defense last season, the Elks ran right through it
adjustments, but I hate to say it, but we just said, ‘Hey, get off your feet for a few minutes and just relax and we’re going to go out and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.’ It almost bit us,” Elkton coach Matt Feeney said. “In the second half, my hat is tipped because they put together a second half plan that was top-notch and I wouldn’t expect anything less from [Bulldogs] coach [James]
McCormick. I mean, that guy is as good as it gets.
“But in the first half we executed.”
After three-straight carries by Estep on the game’s opening drive placed the Elks at the North Caroline 23, quarterback Jackson Argoe lofted a pass to fellow senior J’Qwan Benson, who hauled it in over a defender for the early score.
It was nearly all Estep for the remainder of the half, as the speedy junior running back produced touchdown runs of 11, 73, 13 and 48 yards, respectively, en route to breaking the program’s
single-season rushing record. He ended the night with 295 rushing yards on 28 carries.
Estep now has 2,280 rushing yards on the season.
“The o-line, they got me off to a good start. I found the holes and hit them,” said Estep, who, in the first quarter, passed former Elkton running back John Triplett’s 2001 mark of 2,032 singleseason rushing yards. “We’ve been working since January to get here and we’re finally here.”
Friday’s victory came just one season after Elkton fell to North Caroline in last year’s region final.
“In the second half, they came out swinging hard. They were fighting, they wanted to win this game, but we wanted it more. We dug down deep and our defense managed to stop them,” Elks
defensive end Marquis Byrd said. “I’m excited. I just can’t wait to play football. I’m glad I’m playing more games with my brothers.”
Following halftime, North Caroline showcased the power offense that allowed it to upset top-seeded Kent Island a week ago.
The Bulldogs (9-3) opened the third quarter with a score after running back David Bailey crashed into the end zone on a 7-yard run to cap a 66-yard drive. The visitors then forced Elkton to punt, before Bailey produced perhaps the most impressive play of the night when he escaped the grasp of three would-be tacklers and found fellow running back Luke Ruffo for the 12yard scoring strike.
North Caroline then recovered the ensuing onside kick and marched 34 yards before fullback Allan Saathoff rumbled into the end zone on a 1-yard run to pull the visitors within two scores in the final seconds of the third frame.
“We got our butts kicked, that’s what happened in the first half. Elkton had a good
game plan, the Estep kid is a special player and we couldn’t pull his flag. I think we were a little shellshocked and it took a while for us to wake up, get our feet under us and settle down,” McCormick said. “We talked and we made a couple little adjustments at halftime. We told the kids, ‘Look, just settle down, get your feet under you, let’s get some first downs, get some points on the board, get things rolling and see what happens.
“You take those little steps, let those little steps add up and see what you can get done, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get 33 points on the board. It was the tale of two halves. Our first half was pretty bad and our second half didn’t quite make up for it.”
With Estep on the sideline battling cramps, senior running back CJ Sewell took the majority of the carries on Elkton’s extended fourthquarter drive, carrying the ball four times for 30 yards, including a 17-yard burst that guided the offense into the red zone. While they didn’t score, the Elks gave
the ball back to North Caroline deep in its own territory with little time remaining to complete the comeback
“We were a little bit nervous after the last touchdown [by the Bulldogs], but once we went on the long drive [in which] we didn’t score but we ate up a lot of the clock, it got our confidence back,” said Argoe (7for-11 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown). “We needed to get back to our sense of urgency.”
A deflected pass on defense by Estep on fourth down effectively sealed the victory with mere seconds remaining in the contest. The junior also scooped up a fumble late in the second quarter after fellow defensive back Mike Matthews forced a turnover on a tackle at the Elks 4-yard line.
“[My mindset was] to help the team as much as I can, get this win and get redemption,” Estep said. “It wasn’t a good feeling last year losing to [North Caroline] but we got them back.”
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