The Grundy County Yellow Jackets opened their 2016 season at soggy Crisp Field last Friday night with a 35-12 loss to the Whitwell Tigers. Heavy rain fell during the day at times, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of the fans of both teams to turn out to support them. The Yellow Jacket faithful were anxious to see what the 2016 version of the Jackets had to offer.
Regardless of the rain, the field seem to be in great shape at kickoff under cloudy skies. The Jackets received the opening kickoff, and on the third play from scrimmage, the theme of the game was set. Turnovers! A fumble by the Jackets at their on 45 set the Tigers up with good field position for their first possession.
Whitwell took five plays to cover the 45-yards to get the first score of the contest. Dawson
Holloway hit Jaren Thames on a 32-yard pass down the left sidelines and into the end zone.
Austin Nunley, who was a perfect 5 for 5 on PATs for the game hit his first one and the Tigers led 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Yellow Jacket senior RB James McDaniel took the ball in at his own 11-yard line and set sail down the left sidelines in front of the Whitwell crowd for an 84-yard return to the Tigers five-yard line. From there, sophomore QB Ethan Nunley slipped into the end zone from 5 yards out on the first play from scrimmage. Nunley’s two -point conversion pass to fellow sophomore Josh Wingo fell incomplete and the Tigers led 7-6.
The Jackets surprised the Tigers with an onside kick and recovery on the Jacket 48 in front of an excited Jacket bench. A member of the Tiger return team touched the ball before it went 10 yards and the Yellow Jackets recovered. The Jackets marched down to the Tiger 21, but a seven-yard sack of Nunley and a fourth down incompletion from Nunley to McDaniel stalled the drive. On Whitwell’s next possession the Jacket defense was ready for a fake punt and dropped Holloway short of the yard to gain. Once again, the Jackets were in business at the Tiger 39.
However, the Jackets’ nemesis, the turnover, struck again. Actually, this time it hit both teams, as they both swapped turnovers on four consecutive possessions. Two Jacket fumbles were sandwiched between two interceptions thrown by the Tigers’ Holloway. Sophomore corner Hagen Cash pulled in the first errant throw while fellow sophomore Daygon Dodson made the other pick.
By the time things settled down, the Tigers capitalized on the last Jacket miscue of the four in a row with a 45-yard drive in four plays. Shifty RB Trace Condra scored the first of his three TDs on the night with a 14-yard jaunt to the end zone. Nunley’s kick made the score 14-6 in favor of the visitors.
The Jackets seem to settle down as well. They marched from their own 37 to the Whitwell 20. On third and four, Nunley tried to hit McDaniel near the goal line as the first half horn sounded. The throw was broken up by the Tigers to preserve their 14-6 lead at the half.
The second half started with the Jacket defense forcing a punt after the Tigers had moved to the Jacket 41-yard line. The only punt of the game by either team netted 34 yards and came to rest at the Jacket seven-yard line.
The turnover woes continued in the second half. After three runs failed to net a first down, the Jackets were forced to punt deep in their own territory at the 14. The snap sailed over
Wingo’s head and into the end zone, where he tried to scoop it up and get out of the end zone. However, he was stripped of the ball and the Tigers’ Derrick Shrum fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown. Nunley’s third PAT made the score 21-6.
Once again, the Jacket offense fumbled the ball away, but this time the Jacket defense stiffened and took over on downs when senior linebacker Matt Burrows sacked Holloway for a 10-yard loss. Offensively, the Jackets couldn’t move the ball and they, likewise, turned the ball over on downs.
Whitwell’s Condra raced 53-yards on the first play from scrimmage and scored his second TD on the evening. Nunley again kicked the extra point, and the Tigers were pulling away at 28-6. The Jackets went four and out and it took the confident Tigers only three plays to go 35-yards highlighted by a 33-yard pass and catch from Holloway to Condra. Nunley’s fifth PAT boot made the score 35-6 and the Jackets were facing an opening game loss square in the face.
Nevertheless, the Jackets wouldn’t quit. They put together a prideful 53-yard drive in seven plays. Nunley finished the drive with a two-yard plunge for his second TD of the night. The conversion failed and the score ended 35-12.
The turnover difference
Statistically, the Jackets were in the game. They actually ran 58 total plays to just 38 plays for the Tigers. Rushing yards favored the Jackets 198 to 150. However, the Tigers outgained the Jackets 107 to 24 through the air. The key stat was the turnover difference. The Jackets had seven, including six fumbles and a pick, while the two picks surrendered by Holloway were the only miscues by the Tigers.
Yellow Jacket coaches had to be pleased that the young team committed only three penalties in the opener for 15-yards. Defensively, Kevin Castro had seven tackles, while Dewayne Grooms, Wingo, and Cash had five stops each.
Head coach Casey Tate said, “We ran the ball well the majority of the game. The run game was going well, but you can’t end every drive with a fumble. The defense played well for three quarters, but missed tackles cost us in the fourth quarter. Credit Whitwell for playing sound football and limiting their turnovers.”
The Jackets now must turn their attention to Marion County. The Jackets travel to Jasper tomorrow night for the 7 p.m., kickoff.
Tate stated, “We have to refocus, correct mistakes, and continue to emphasize fundamentals and techniques. Marion County will test us on how we handle adversity following a loss.” He added, “This group of seniors are tough nosed and we will look to them to help keep the younger players focused on improving.”
The Jackets were very competitive with the Tigers and minimizing their mistakes could have made the score a lot different. There is still a lot of football to be played and plenty to be optimistic and excited about as we follow the Jackets.