Defense, special teams lift the Bucs
Blocked FG at the 1 leads to Doyle’s winning TD return
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.”
Kent Island’s Austin Ryan carries the ball as teammate Sean Mooney blocks during Friday’s game against North Caroline.