Strong start doesn't last for Lumpkin football in season opener

  • Indians defender Joseph Thomas celebrates after blocking a punt into the end zone. Aaron Hopkins fell on the ball for Lumpkin’s first touchdown in its season opener last Friday night.
    Indians defender Joseph Thomas celebrates after blocking a punt into the end zone. Aaron Hopkins fell on the ball for Lumpkin’s first touchdown in its season opener last Friday night.
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When the LCHS varsity football team took a 15-0 lead on the East Jackson Eagles in the opening minutes of the first quarter of the Indians’ 2019 season opener at the Burial Grounds at Cottrell Field on Friday, August 23, it looked like the Indians were going to run away with the game.
But, 19 unanswered points by the Eagles from the second quarter on changed the complexion of the game, put the momentum in the Eagles’ favor and allowed East Jackson to mount a comeback 25-22 victory.
“I am not discouraged,” said LCHS head football coach Caleb Sorrells after the loss. “It hurts and it stinks, but I am not discouraged that we aren’t who we thought we were or that we can’t be as good as we thought we could be. We just need to keep getting better and I think it will come.”
LCHS running back Drew Allison gained 12 yards on the first play of the opening drive of the game. On second down, Allison once again broke free for a big gain. However, the eight-yard carry was negated by an illegal procedure penalty. The penalty killed the momentum of the drive and the Indians were forced to punt three plays later.
The Indians’ defense, led by Aaron Hopkins, came out fast and furious on the Eagles’ ensuing drive. Hopkins blew past the East Jackson offensive line on first down and sacked the Eagles’ quarterback for a seven-yard loss. Two plays later Hopkins once again found himself in the backfield and once again came up with a huge quarterback sack. The two sacks by Hopkins forced the Eagles to punt on fourth and 24.
When East Jackson attempted the punt, Joseph Thomas barreled through the line and got a hand on the ball, knocking it into the end zone where Hopkins pounced on it for Lumpkin’s first touchdown.
Thomas’ punt block and Hopkins’ recovery for a score gave Lumpkin an early 6-0 lead. The Indians successfully converted the two-point attempt after the touchdown when quarterback Tucker Kirk sped around the far corner past the goal line, giving Lumpkin an 8-0 advantage with 7:29 left in the first half.
On the ensuing kick off, the Indians’ special teams were able to jump on the ball after the Eagles’ return man couldn’t handle it. When the pile was cleared, Lumpkin’s Tanner Barber emerged with possession.
The fumble recovery gave the Indians great field position at the East Jackson eight-yard-line.
It took one handoff to LCHS running back BoJack Dowdy for the Indians to score their second touchdown of the game, extending their lead to 14-0. Sophomore place kicker Will Ramirez booted the extra point through the uprights and Lumpkin held a 15-0 lead with 7:16 left in the first half.
On the Eagles’ next drive the Lumpkin defense once again came away with a turnover when Ryan Burkhart was able to recover a fumble by the Eagles’ running back.
However, the Indians’ offense was unable to produce any points off the turnover and were forced to punt the ball after a three-and-out.
East Jackson began to move the ball better on its next possession and methodically inched closer to the goal line with a mix of running and passing plays. Despite the Eagles being able to get down to the Indians’ eight-yard-line, Lumpkin’s defense was able to make a stop on fourth-and-goal to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard.
Backed up deep in their own territory, the Indians tried to drive the ball down the field behind the legs and power of LCHS running back Kevin Harkins. Harkins looked strong as he ran over defenders and gained 22 yards on four carries. However, another illegal procedure penalty pushed the Indians back and ultimately stalled out the drive and forced Lumpkin to punt.
The Eagles started off the ensuing drive in good field position at the Indians’ 41-yard-line after a high punt by Brian Cunane that took an unfortunate bounce backwards. East Jackson made the most of the situation and on its second play of the drive found a wide open receiver near the goal line on the right sideline. The receiver easily walked into the end zone for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game, cutting the Lumpkin lead to 15-6. The score remained the same after East Jackson missed the extra point.
The Eagles touchdown took a bit of steam out of the Indians’ fanbase, but the crowd quickly got back into the game when Tate Reinhardt took the ensuing kickoff and weaved his way through the East Jackson defense for an 89-yard kickoff return for an Indians touchdown. Reinhardt spectacular run gave the Indians a 22-6 lead. With 9:09 left in the second quarter.
It would also prove to be the last score for the Indians in the game.
With 4:52 left in the half, the Eagles cut into the Indians’ lead when East Jackson running back Nino Brown broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run. Brown’s score cut the Lumpkin lead to 22-12.
Although it had two more possessions in the half, the Indians’ offense was unable to get anything going for the remainder of the second quarter and the two teams went into the halftime break with Lumpkin leading 22-12.
The Eagles cut the lead to 22-19 on the opening drive of the second half when East Jackson quarterback Greg Huggs connected with wide receiver Shawn Cunningham for a 26-yard touchdown reception.
The Indians tried to run the ball against the Eagles on their first drive of the second half, but the Eagles’ defense didn’t allow the running attack of Lumpkin to get far and the Indians were forced to punt after a three-and-out.
The score remained 22-19 in favor of Lumpkin until the final seconds of the third quarter when the Eagles completed a 36-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run from Brown. Brown’s touchdown gave the Eagles their first lead of the game with just the fourth quarter left to play.
Trailing 25-22, the Indians had one last shot to put points on the scoreboard and tie the game with 19.1 seconds left on the clock. On fourth-and-nine from the 17-yard-line, Ramirez stepped on the field in hopes of booting the tying field goal through the uprights. Ramirez’s kick lifted off with enough height, but the kick fell short of the goal posts.
The missed field goal gave the Eagles the ball back with 14.4 seconds left and East Jackson finished the game with a quarterback kneel as they lined up in victory formation.
Though the Lumpkin coaches and players were visibly disappointed by the 25-22 comeback win by East Jackson, Sorrells made sure to let his players know that the final score didn’t define who they were and what they were going to accomplish this season.
“I’m proud of the way we battled,” Sorrells told his players. “We made some mistakes, but those are things we can fix. I am good with what we can’t coach. I’m good with the heart and the effort. The score tonight doesn’t define who we are.”
Sorrells admitted that the East Jackson defense did well in the game to shut down the Indians’ offense.
“They [East Jackson] did a lot of things defensively that locked us down,” Sorrells said. “They played a bunch of man coverage and said, ‘If you’re going to throw it on us, throw it on us.’”
Defensively, Sorrells was pleased with what he saw from his players.
“Defensively, I don’t think we need to change a ton,” Sorrells said. “We just need to play better. And, I think we will, I think that’s coming. Our kids are still in the process of learning, not just what to do, but learning how to handle situations when the other team puts all the chips on the table and seeing whether or not we can meet the challenge late in games.”
Though the result was not the one that Sorrells or his team wanted in the season opener, the first-year head coach is optimistic that the Indians will improve throughout the season.
“We have nine more games to show how good we can be,” Sorrells said.
The loss to East Jackson starts the Indians off with a 0-1 record to begin the 2019 season.
The LCHS varsity football team will look to pick up its first win of the season and Sorrells’ first win as LCHS head coach when the Indians travel to take on the White County Warriors this Friday, August 30. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.