De­fense, spe­cial teams lift the Bucs

Blocked FG at the 1 leads to Doyle’s win­ning TD re­turn

Record Observer - - Sports - By AY­MAN ALAM aalam@star­dem.com

RIDGELY — A game that could bear wide-reach­ing play­off im­pli­ca­tions as the sea­son pro­gresses was ul­ti­mately de­cided by a fin­ger­tip. Or was it sev­eral fin­ger­tips? The Kent Is­land and North Caro­line high school foot­ball teams rolled into Fri­day night’s key Class 2A East Re­gion tus­sle sport­ing 2-0 records, al­most all four com­bined re­sults com­ing in fash­ions rang­ing from nail­biters to tooth-and-nail ef­forts.

When the defending re­gion cham­pion Bull­dogs’ Liam Dowdell lined up for an 18-yard field goal in­side the fi­nal minute of play, 3-0 ap­peared an all but fore­gone con­clu­sion for Caro­line, but the Buccaneers’ spe­cials teams, as it has done in ev­ery con­test thus far, came through again.

Dowdell’s kick was a low, line drive, tum­bling into the maw of the Kent Is­land line, and the ball was tipped and rolled in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. The Bucs’ Braden Doyle scooped it on the run at Kent Is­land’s 11, and then it was off to the races, as the se­nior dashed in for the 89-yard touch­down re­turn, leav­ing the home crowd stunned in a 21-14 fi­nal.

“I’m kind of just stand­ing there, and the ball falls right in my hands,” said Doyle, who played his first game of the sea­son af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken right thumb. “I was shocked at first,

but then turned around and just ran for my life.

“I thought I was go­ing to get caught, but I squeaked it out some­how,” Doyle added. “It was a huge win. Last year, we lost to them, and it was kind of a shock. It just shows us that we can do great things, and I think it raises the con­fi­dence for our teams. I’m ex­cited to see what hap­pens.”

The Bucs scored a touch­down on de­fense or spe­cial teams for the third straight game.

“We ex­pect to make plays de­fen­sively,” Bucs de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tim Goodrich said. “Our goal ev­ery week is like ev­ery other de­fense’s: not to give up any points and score. Get­ting Braden Doyle back tonight was huge, he just brings us a spark.”

Kent Is­land’s de­fense buck­led here and there, but never did cave, par­tic­u­larly when at­tempt­ing to snuff out Caro­line’s ju­nior run­ning back David Bai­ley, who came in with 291 yards on the ground in 40 car­ries through the first two games.

Bai­ley was lim­ited to a mostly in­ef­fec­tive 77 yards on 14 hand­offs, and the Bull­dogs’ other run­ners — se­niors Tay Potts and Zaye Rochester — were also kept from get­ting out in the open, the tan­dem post­ing 55 and 46 yards rushing, re­spec­tively, on 16 to­tal touches.

“Our guys buy into what we say,” Goodrich said. “They know they have to pre­pare. The amount of film we mon­i­tor, the amount of film they watch and the amount of prepa­ra­tion they put in has been great, and the re­sults are on the field, no ques­tion.

The loss was Caro­line’s first in the reg­u­lar sea­son since Oct. 24, 2014, a 21-20 set­back to Queen Anne’s County. The 14-game streak — which in­cluded the pro­gram’s first-ever 10-0 ledger in 2015 — was nearly ex­tended to 15 on a Bai­ley run pre­ced­ing the blocked FG.

The burly tail­back tried to move the pile from the Caro­line 2 and ap­peared to break the plane with his left shoul­der pads on a third-down plunge. The ball, how­ever, did not fol­low, leav­ing the Bull­dogs on the 1 and leav­ing head coach James Mc­Cormick to make what was likely an ag­o­niz­ing de­ci­sion.

“This is a heck of a way for it to end,” Mc­Cormick said. “First of all, it was a heck of a game, both teams fought hard. It was an un­be­liev­able change of emo­tions from be­ing on the 1-yard line to win it to be­ing down six points on a blocked field goal — I don’t know how you’re go­ing to ex­plain that to the peo­ple that weren’t here.

“There was a thought to run it, I think ev­ery­one in the sta­dium said run it ex­cept me,” Mc­Cormick added. “That’s my call, ob­vi­ously it was the wrong call. We’ve got some good backs and we should have tried to punch it in. It was a call I made, it was wrong, and we’re go­ing to live with it.”

Kent Is­land got on the board early, quar­ter­back Jor­dan Mar­ciano con­nect­ing with ju­nior wide­out Sean Mooney down the right side­line on a 49-yard catch-an­drun; Bert Schre­con­gost’s point-af­ter kick made it 7-0, Buccaneers, with 9 min­utes, 25 se­conds re­main­ing in the first quar­ter.

Mar­ciano was sacked and stripped by Caro­line’s Jamion Franklin a drive later on a QB keeper, and Alan Saathoff re­cov­ered the fum­ble and tied up the score with a 28-yard re­turn; Dowdell’s PAT was good.

“We’re still not the best team Kent Is­land foot­ball can be,” Bucs head coach Damian Fer­rag­amo said. “We’ve had some big plays on de­fense and spe­cial teams, but we can’t rely on those things, and we have to get bet­ter of­fen­sively.”

The 7-7 score stretched all the way to the wan­ing mo­ments of the first half.

A wob­bly punt from Kent Is­land’s Bran­don Gal­loway caught a nice bounce and came to a stop on the Caro­line 13 with 4:17 to go be­fore the break, but the Bull­dogs pieced to­gether the game’s best of­fen­sive drive on the en­su­ing foray.

Buoyed by ju­nior quar­ter­back Cody Pep­per, who con­nected with Bai­ley for 11, Rochester for 12, and Potts for 26, the Bull­dogs chewed up the clock and yardage with rel­a­tive, though sur­pris­ing, ease, con­sid­er­ing the Kent Is­land de­fense had pitched a shutout to that point against a high-pow­ered of­fense.

The 11-play, 87-yard pos­ses­sion was capped by Bai­ley walk­ing in a 2-yard TD to make it 14-7, Caro­line, at the half.

Three straight punts to start the se­cond half left Kent Is­land with the ball on its 45. Fol­low­ing an in­com­plete pass from Mar­ciano, Franklin se­cond forced fum­ble of the game handed the ball over to Caro­line on the Bucs’ 41.

The Bull­dogs had a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity to seize mo­men­tum, but Potts fum­bled on a re­verse on the next play, and Kent Is­land’s Dy­lan Fin­lay pounced on it.

“That was a big one,” Mc­Cormick said of the fum­ble. “We were down there in their ter­ri­tory and we wanted to pound it and not make a mis­take. Turn­ing it right back over to them hurt, but we had other op­por­tu­ni­ties to put points on the board and do things suc­cess­fully, and we didn’t.”

Gal­loway’s punt landed on Caro­line’s 15, and af­ter Rochester was dropped for a loss on a run, Pep­per took a hard hit on se­cond down from Frank Ro­tondo, and fum­bled.

Ryan fell on the ball on Caro­line’s 1, and was in the end zone on the next snap, ty­ing the game at 14-14 and end­ing a Kent Is­land scoring drought near­ing 34 min­utes.

The touch­down might as well have been cred­ited to the de­fense, and Fer­rag­amo and Goodrich play­fully wres­tled over the credit.

“Let’s give it to the of­fense,” Fer­rag­amo said. “Can we get it? Can we have it?”

Added Goodrich: “I’m go­ing to count that one. I’m count­ing the blocked field goal, too, be­cause the de­fense was on the field for that one.”

PHOTO BY AY­MAN ALAM

Kent Is­land’s Austin Ryan car­ries the ball as team­mate Sean Mooney blocks dur­ing Fri­day’s game against North Caro­line.

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