NEWLAND — Avery Football came into its regular-season home finale on Nov. 1 against Owen with high hopes, despite coming up one score short in its Homecoming game last week. The club celebrated its nine seniors who had contributed to the program’s turning a corner in 2019 during pregame ceremonies honoring Avery senior student-athletes in fall sports.
Meanwhile, the Owen Warhorses were still stinging from a game that got away from them the previous week at Mountain Heritage. The Warhorses used the loss at motivation when it came to chilly MacDonald Stadium, using a balanced offensive attack to keep the Big Red off balance as Avery fell 54-32 to fall to an even 5-5 for the 2019 season with one game remaining on the schedule.
“They did a nice job on both sides of the line. We had a hard time up front on defense at times, and they had two good players on their defensive line that gave us a hard time containing them,” Avery head coach Mac Bryan said after the game. “In the three phases of the game, they outplayed us on special teams where they had the blocked punt and returned kicks very well. They probably had a little more team speed than we had, which showed up on special teams. I thought offensively we put up 32 points on the board, but we probably should have had 40 or 42 points scored.We had 560 or so yards and snapped the ball 80 times. It’s hard to complain much with that kind of production.
“Defensively, we had a few more missed assignments than we normally have and I don’t think we tackled quite as well, which the opponent may have had something to do with that,” Bryan continued. “We didn’t have the defensive game that we’ve had at times this year, and we didn’t seem to be in sync defensively.”
Part of the lack of defensive consistency may have been due to the Vikings playing without a pair of run-stuffing tacklers on its defensive line in Steven Deyton and John Lee. Avery had trouble bringing down the power running of the Owen backfield of Caleb Scott, Blake Roberts, and Dequan Boyce. Offensively, Avery shrugged off a slow start, however, to amass 556 yards in total offense, including a career-high 248 rushing yards from senior Lucas Andrews.
“Lucas ran extremely well. He read things well and broke a lot of tackles,” Bryan added. “I thought he did a heck of a job. Our line did a pretty good job to open holes. We didn’t give up a sack in the offensive line and ran as a team for 270 yards. It’s hard to complain about the offensive production. Lucas also had a good game on defense as well.”
Vikings quarterback Troy Hoilman threw 306 yards on 24-for-51 passing with four touchdowns. Wide receiver teammates Ty Smith and Jonas Bowman each amassed more than 100 receiving yards in the contest, Smith with eight catches for 100 yards and Bowman with six receptions for 112 yards. Teammate Jesse Jones caught a pair of touchdowns, while Lucas Andrews scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown on the night.
Owen boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers, as Boyce gained 123 yards on only eight carries with a touchdown, and Scott chipped in with 102 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. Roberts added 86 yards on eight carries and a touchdown, while Scott threw for 167 yards on 7-for-11 passing and four scores.
Defensively, Lucas Andrews led all players with nine tackles, including a sack. Brother and teammate Levi Andrews pitched in with 7.5 tackles and a sack.
Avery was held to three-and-out on its opening series of the game, and following the Viking punt, Owen drove 57 yards over seven plays to draw first blood. Following a 35-yard pass connection of fourth down from Scott to Fred Graves, Roberts scored from three yards out to stake the Warhorses to a 7-0 lead.
Seeking an equalizer, Avery sandwiched a pair of pass completions between six pass attempts on its next series, eventually pinning Owen at its own 1-yard line following a sterling Jones punt. Undaunted, the Warhorses mounted a 12-play, 99-yard drive that consumed almost half of the first-quarter clock. Scott capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge across the goal line to give the visitors a 14-0 lead entering the second quarter.
“We’re trying to score as fast and as much as we can on offense, but it’s still a field position game. When you pin a team back near the goal line you hope to be able to get the ball back or cause a turnover. That’s how games are won and lost,” Bryan explained. “To give up a long drive and touchdown like that when the field is in your favor, it’s a big momentum changer and changes the complexion of the game.”
On Avery’s series that overlapped the end of the first quarter and start of the second, the Vikings drove into Owen territory only to be stymied on a fourth-down conversion attempt. The teams proceeded to exchange punts before the Warhorses took advantage of a short punt that allowed the team to set up its offense inside Viking territory. On the first play of the ensuing series, Boyce found a gap and raced 41 yards for an OHS score, with the PAT pushing the Owen advantage to 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Undaunted, Avery responded to the latest Owen touchdown with one of its own, as Hoilman capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring pass to Jones. The extra point was unsuccessful, leaving AHS with a 21-6 deficit.
The Warhorses started its next possession in positive field position thanks to a 49-yard Shavoy Harding kickoff return. Two plays later, Scott hooked up with Harding for a 38-yard touchdown to boost the OHS lead back to its largest of the half at 28-6.
Running a two-minute offense to close the half, Avery ended the quarter with a second touchdown, when Hoilman and Jones again connected for a score, this time a 26-yard pitch-and-catch, to narrow the gap on the scoreboard to 28-12 going into halftime.
Owen opened the second half with a bang, as Scott broke free on a 55-yard run on the first play of the first Warhorse possession of the third quarter. Two plays later, Scott found Graves on a 12-yard touchdown pass. The PAT failed, but Owen led 34-12 less than a minute into the period.
Two plays into Avery’s first possession of the half, the Vikings turned the football over when Geordon Haggins picked off a Hoilman pass in Warhorse territory. Owen capitalized on the miscue with a five-play, 58-yard drive capped by a 31-yard TD pass from Scott to Graves. The PAT gave the Warhorses a commanding 41-12 lead five minutes into the third quarter.
Fortunes turned from bad to worse for the Vikings. Avery was forced to punt deep inside its own territory on its subsequent possession, but Owen’s Myles Tate blocked Jones’ punt to give Owen possession inside the Avery 10. From there, Owen scored two plays later on another pass connection from Scott to Graves. Avery’s J’Leyn Hall blocked the PAT, but the Warhorses padded its lead to 47-12.
Avery’s offense began to click in the latter half of the third quarter, finding running lanes in the Owen defense and holes to pass through to the tune of a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Hoilman to Andrews. A failed conversion try left the Vikings trailing 47-18.
With Avery beginning to build momentum, Owen answered with a two-play drive to paydirt, capped by a 14-yard TD run by Scott for a 54-18 OHS lead after three quarters. In the final 12 minutes, Avery added another pair of touchdowns, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Hoilman to Ty Smith, and a 1-yard run by Andrews in the game’s final seconds, to provide the scoring margin in the 54-32 Owen win.
Avery closes its regular season this Friday, Nov. 8, when it ventures to Ledger to take on Mitchell in The AJT Border Battle Classic.