Saturday, September 02, 2006

SPORTS >>Momentum killers doom Lions in loss

IN SHORT: Early penalties and a flawless Vilonia offense gave Searcy fits during the Lions’ season opener at Eagle Field in Vilonia Friday night.

Leader sports writer

Searcy’s defense had no answer for Vilonia’s perfectly executed double wing-T offense. The Eagles ran the tricky set to perfection through the duration of Friday night’s season opener at Eagle Field in Vilonia to take a convincing 33-16 win over the Lions.

Vilonia scored its first touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter, and controlled the game’s tempo from then on, keeping the Lions down by at least two scores for the majority of the contest.

The lead at halftime was 14-0 for the Eagles, who added another score on the opening kickoff to start the second half. Derrick Gwatney took Jason Felton’s kick at the 1-yard line, and broke to the right side from the left hash to take it all the way in for the score.

Gwatney added another touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the third to put the Eagles ahead 27-0.

“We had some momentum there in the first quarter, but the penalties killed us,” Searcy head coach Bart McFarland said. “I guess we got four or five penalties after big plays that really slowed us down, but that’s no excuse.

“We knew they were going to come out in the double wing; we knew they weren’t going to throw the football. We practiced it all week. We couldn’t stop them and we couldn’t run the football effectively. That’s the bottom line, we got beat. But, it’s a long season, we have to keep our heads up, that’s just the first game. We will go back and coach them up, and get ready for the next one.”

Vilonia head coach Jim Stanley was elated by his young team’s dominating performance after the game.
“I was worried,” Stanley said. “We had lots of penalties, we’ll have to work on that. I’m always scared to death the first game on special teams. My philosophy is that the game is won or lost on special teams.

“We were lucky that we scored, because they scored. I’m not happy with that, but I’m just glad we didn’t lose because of special teams. I was a nervous wreck. Now we can study and evaluate some problems we’ve got.”

Searcy’s first spark at all in the game finally arrived with 1:26 left in the third after Gwatney’s run put Vilonia up by 27.
Demarco Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for the first Lions’ score of the game. A pass from quarterback Justin Rowden to Felton converted the two-point attempt to close the gap to 27-8.

Zac Hall put his third touchdown on the board at the 11:16 mark of the fourth quarter. Hall’s 35-yard TD run increased the Eagles’ lead to 33-8.

Hall scored both Vilonia touchdowns in the first half with runs of 5-yards and 4-yards respectively for a two-touchdown halftime advantage.

Searcy’s one complete offensive drive came too little, too late. The Lions got great field position at the hands of two-straight intentional grounding penalties on Eagles QB Kevin Puckett. The ball was moved back further on a delay of game penalty when Vilonia lined up to punt. Kicker James Lloyd lined up at the goal line, and punted to the Vilonia 31-yard line.

The Lions took advantage of the good spot, going the distance on six plays, capped off with a 6-yard toss from Rowden to Jonathan Wyatt on fourth-and-goal. Rowden ran in the two-point attempt under pressure, setting the final margin of 33-16.
The early storyline was penalties for both teams. After the opening Searcy possession halted at its own 43, Vilonia took over and quickly moved into the Lions’ red zone. Three penalties moved the Eagles back into their own territory, forcing a punt.
Searcy’s best looking drive in the opening moments was cancelled out with three straight holding penalties.

In total, Searcy was penalized nine times for 86 yards in the first half, while Vilonia drew six flags for 31 yards. McFarland was not a big proponent of some of his teams’ penalties, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after disputing the third Searcy holding call in four plays.

“Whether they happened or not, they called them, and that’s enough for me to say about that,” McFarland said. “We committed them, so it’s no excuse.”

Vilonia finished with 403 yards of total offense. All but 16 of those yards came on the ground. Searcy finished with 145 yards of total offense. Justin Rowden was 11 of 25 for 87 yards passing.

For Vilonia, Zac Hall carried 13 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns. Derrick Gwatney had 17 rushes for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

Searcy will travel to Batesville next week to face the even stronger ground assault of the Pioneers. Vilonia will face Hot Springs Lakeside in Hot Springs.