Fumbles costly for Lions in loss to Knights
Queen Anne’s mounts rally in the second half, but turnover issues loom large as team falls to 3-1
Sussex Central 29 Queen Anne’s 14
GEORGETOWN, DEL — Donny Graef is a coach spanning many generations of high school football players, and the generational difference between the longtime coach and the current Queen Anne’s County crop was evident following the latest game.
Graef told his team after Friday evening’s 29-14, out-of-conference loss to Sussex Central that the previously unbeaten Lions had just been served some humble pie, which Graef joked afterwards many players may have thought was an item on a menu, not an age-old, oft-used term in the world of sports.
The Golden Knights served up that humble pie throughout most of a contest that will ultimately bear only intangible meanings for both squads when it comes to playoff seeding, but Queen Anne’s (31) did close the gap in the second half after falling behind 27-0, and the few positives were worth focusing on for Graef.
“Love ‘em,” Graef said of playing the non-Bayside Conference game against a strong Delaware program. “This game, maybe not tonight, but somewhere along the way is going to pay a lot of dividends. It’s just great to be able to play a game like this. Obviously, we’d like to come out on top, and I also think a lot of the times you learn a lot more from a loss than a win any way.
“What it boils down to is, you’re going to have to beat (North) Caroline, you’re going to have to beat Kent Island along with everyone else on the schedule,” Graef added. “Win or lose, it’s a plus playing a team like that, because it’s going to make us better.”
Sussex Central, which has yet to play a Delaware Division I game, improved to 2-1, getting 132 yards on only four carries from senior tailback Kendrique Nocks, who notched touchdown runs of 80 and 45 yards. Timothy Jones
also broke a 30-yard TD scamper for the Knights, while senior quarterback Brady Bowden connected with Mark Tolson on a 70yard catch-and-run for a score.
“They’ve got a great defense, and we couldn’t run too well between tackles,” Sussex Central head coach John Wells said. “We tried to spread ‘em out, do a little shotgun, mix it up some and get them chasing. The couple of big plays were the difference, of course.
“Utmost respect for the program,” Wells added of Queen Anne’s, which ran away with a 2015 matchup, 42-19. “Coach Graef does a great job, and last year, they were phenomenal. I think have a great chance of coming out of the Baysides.”
The game was scoreless through the first period, the sides trading punts on the first four possessions before the Lions turned it over on downs on the Sussex 30, senior running back Jykel Garner (11 carries, 68 yards) getting stuffed well short on a fourth-down carry.
The Knights took over on their own 29, and Holland Fulton was dropped for a 9-yard loss by senior linebacker Jordan Wilmer and then stopped for no gain, setting up a 3rd-and-19. Sussex had mostly stayed with the run to that point, and the patience paid off when Nocks burst through the line and raced four Lions into the end zone, discovering another gear during the second half of the 80-yard TD dash.
Christian Castillo’s point-after kick made it 7-0, Knights, and the lead swelled to 21-0 by halftime on Tolson’s touchdown grab and Jones’ 30-yard run.
“We had film, and were definitely aware of what they did, but we just didn’t play fundamental football,” Wilmer said. “We were sluggish earlier this week in practice, and we came out like we practiced.
“After this tough loss, we need to hold our heads up, come out Monday, well Saturday actually, it starts tomorrow, and learn how to play hard and strong,” Wilmer added.
Sussex went up 27-0 early in the third on Nocks’ second big run, the 45-yard venture coming on the heels of a 20-yard BowdenTolson hookup; Castillo’s kick was blocked.
Queen Anne’s second of three lost fumbles of the night followed, this one coughed up on a seconddown snap in Knight territory recovered by John Morris. The Lions also yielded a safety for the game’s final points and turned it over on downs on two drives.
“Turnovers really ended up haunting us,” Graef said. “Turnovers are part of the game. We usually tell the kids, 100 times, that if you commit more of it than the other team, the chances to win are diminishing.”
Queen Anne’s finally broke the scoring drought with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third quarter, senior QB Mike D’Angelo (4-for-9 passing, 70 yards) finding Wyatt Pinder wide open on a fade to the right corner of the end zone for a 17-yard TD. The 70-yard drive was kept alive by some heady running from Diondre Collins (4-48) and a 32-yard grab by Tyler Bonner, who one-handed a near interception away before fighting into Sussex territory.
“The offensive line may have been playing a little bit better,” Graef said of Queen Anne’s in-game turnaround. “They must have been doing a better job because they were really stagnant, wasn’t getting a push at all in the first half.
“If I had to pick one thing that was different, it was the offensive line,” Graef added. “I like the kids’ effort in the second half, thought it was a big character test for them, and they came out and played hard.”
The Lions’ defense also stiffened once falling behind by four touchdowns.
After yielding nearly 270 yards offense once Nocks crossed the end zone on his second TD, Queen Anne’s limited the Knights to less than 60 yards the rest of the way, allowing the offense to chip away and make a game of it.
“I think we just came out and played with a better mindset,” Wilmer said. “Second half, we came out with a bigger heart, and played football. “We really had to eliminate the big plays.
“I find it fun, playing someone different than someone in the Baysides,” Wilmer added. “You get to learn something about a different team.”
The Knights were already scuffling when the Lions got on the board, and further opened the doors for a potential Queen Anne’s comeback when jawing between players led to a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Sussex deep in its territory.
The infraction stalled the drive. Sussex punter Jordan Dorman had to set up just short of the goal line on a 4th-and-24 attempt, which landed on the Sussex 31 after Wilmer appeared to get a piece of the ball while simultaneously leveling Dorman.
Collins ripped a 26yard run on the ensuing snap, and two plays later, D’Angelo was in paydirt on a 1-yard sneak, coupling with Metrinko’s kick to pull Queen Anne’s within 27-14 with nearly a full quarter still left to play.
“We’ve played two tough teams — Interboro (a 2016 loss to the southern Pennsylvania school) and Queen Anne’s — top-notch teams,” Wells said. “I told our kids, I think Queen Anne’s and Interboro can play with anyone in our state, and that’s not knocking anybody in our state.
“We knew what they had up front, and their skill was as good as anyone on our schedule,” Wells added.
The visitors would get no closer, as Sussex’s Cristian Torres recovered another fumbled snap to offset a Knights turnover on downs. The turnover arrived on a 3rd-and-2 on the Sussex 39, with more than 8 minutes to go.
“That last fumble killed us,” Graef said.
Dorman later pinned Queen Anne’s on its 2 on a spectacular punt on 4thand-23 from the Lions 40. Two plays later, Kasim Lewis sacked D’Angelo deep in the end zone for a safety to cap the scoring.
“If you turn the ball over, it’s going to be a long night,” Graef said. “I’m really happy with the way the kids played in the second half, moving the ball a little bit better.
“First half, I don’t know who that was, but give Sussex Central all the credit,” Graef added. “They stuck us, and we couldn’t get any push on the line, just give them a lot of credit.”
Follow me on Twitter @Ayman_StarDem. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org