Fullback Trent Knight's first and third rushing touchdowns of the evening were symbolic of the South Putnam's season opener Friday night. When things were going right for the Eagles, they were really going right.
Knight scored three times in helping lead his team to a 35-12 win over visiting Owen Valley.
Knight's first score came in the first quarter. The senior took the ball in the backfield then fumbled near the line of scrimmage only to have the ball bounce right back into his hands. From there, he rumbled through the Patriot defense for an 11-yard touchdown.
But on the first play, Knight broke through the defense and sprinted to a 58-yard score to bring the game to its final margin. If the fullback had tired legs, it did not show.
"We have a kid who I don't think came off the field tonight in Trent Knight," Burgess said. "He's not the fastest guy in the world, and he outruns everyone for a 60-yard touchdown with a minute to go in the game. That says something about his conditioning."
Conditioning for the whole Eagle squad (1-0, 0-0 WCC) was a big point for Burgess. Playing in the highest heat the area has seen since the earliest part of practice, both teams showed some effects. Players on both sides went down with cramps multiple times.
The Eagles handled it better, though.
"I think it says something about our kids and how hard they've worked. The night we walked off of Monrovia's field last year in the sectional, we came back to work that following Monday. I think this says something about how hard these kids have worked in the offseason to get themselves into shape," Burgess commented.
The game opened poorly for the Eagles. They fumbled snaps on the first play of each of the first two drives.
The Patriots (0-1, 0-0 WIC), on the other hand, looked good early. They drove down the field for an Andrew Herschberger touchdown on the opening drive.
They looked on their way to another score before a defensive lineman made a big play. Adam Masters met Herschberger in the backfield and knocked the ball loose. Conor Frame jumped on the loose ball and the Eagles were in business.
"Early on, we didn't control the line of scrimmage," Burgess said. "When Adam forced that turnover, it kind of got our line going on both sides of the ball. We turned around and drove it down the field. That starts up front. When they do their job and they control the line of scrimmage, we think we can do some positive things. Early on, we just didn't get that done."
On the ensuing drive, Derek Tomaw gave the Eagle offense some life, as his first three runs of the night went for 17, 14 and 10 yards, respectively. A Hunter Edwards pass to Frame for 27 yards set up Knight's first score of the evening with 2:23 to go in the quarter.
The Jake Gould extra point was blocked, and the game was tied at six.
For most of the remainder of the half, both offenses sputtered. But the Patriots took advantage of good field position put together an 11-play 45-yard scoring drive late in the half.
The Patriots led 12-6 at the half.
But it was all Eagles in the third quarter.
Owen Valley had to punt after its first possession, and Drew Cash took the Mike Turley boot 56 yards to paydirt. The Gould extra point gave South a 13-12 lead with 10:04 left in the third.
The next play from scrimmage was also huge, as Nathan Welty intercepted a Jeff Wilson pass and returned it to the Patriot 20 yard line.
It only took four plays for the Eagles to strike, as Edwards ran it in from a yard out. The Gould kick made it 20-12.
A bad OV punt gave the Eagles great field position again at the 25 yard line. This time, it took five plays before Knight ran it in from five yards out for his second score.
On the PAT, holder John Spencer couldn't get the ball down, but ran around the defense for a two-point conversion. South Putnam led 28-12.
All told, the Eagles had outscored the Patriots 22-0 in the third quarter while only gaining 38 yards. Almost the entire quarter had been played in Patriot territory.
For the coach, the dominance sprung from the conditioning and the play of the line.
"The way we controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half says something about our conditioning. We've said from day one that we're going to go as our line goes. If we can control the line of scrimmage and play well up front, we could be pretty good," Burgess said.
He was also proud of the number of kids who stepped in to get some unexpected playing time.
"We tell the kids every day at practice, 'If you're a number two, you're one play away from being a starter.' I think the kids think that's a cliché; it's not," he said. "There were a number of kids who probably never thought they'd get to play on a Friday night in a meaningful game and came in and did a great job for us."
In the fourth, the Patriots ran 27 plays to the Eagles' seven. But they also turned it over on downs four times. Knight's final scamper was the only score of the final frame.
With a tough first-half of the season, Burgess said it was big for his team to get to 1-0. The Eagles face a murderers' row in Class 4A Owen Valley, Tri-West, Rockville and North Putnam. It's nice not to wait until week five or six for a win.
"It's huge to get this win. We talked about it last year, that in the last two season, four weeks into the season we have the toughest schedule in the state of Indiana based on the Sagarin rating," Burgess said.
"If you look at the years South Putnam wins this game, they go on with an average record around 8-4. The years Owen Valley wins this game, South Putnam has an average record of 4-6. The numbers don't lie as to just how important this first game is," he added.
South Putnam hosts Tri-West at 7 p.m. next Friday.
At South Putnam
|Owen Valley||6 6 0 0 -- 12|
|South Putnam||6 0 22 7 -- 35|
OV -- A. Herschberger 1 yard run (kick failed) 8:15.
SP -- Knight 11 yard run (kick blocked) 2:23.
OV -- Wilson to Waner 8 yard pass (run failed) 0:40.
SP -- Cash 57 yard punt return (Gould kick) 10:04
SP -- Edwards 1 yard run (Gould kick) 8:31
SP -- Knight 3 yard run (Spencer run) 4:28
SP -- Knight 58 yard run (Gould kick) 1:28.
Owen Valley (0-1, 0-0 WIC):
Rushing -- (44 carries, 96 yards) -- A. Herschberger 13-19, Shedd 8-24, Turley 1-6, Wilson 13-19, J. Herschberger 9-29.
Passing -- (11-24-1-1, 95 yards) -- Wilson 11-24, 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Receiving -- (11 catches, 95 yards) -- Shedd 1-12, Waner 4-28, Behrman 1-10, J. Herschberger 1-9, Turley 2-28, A. Herschberger 2-8.
South Putnam (1-0, 0-0 WCC):
Rushing -- (28 carries, 140 yards) -- Knight 6-86, Cash 6-11, Tomaw 9-44, Welty 2-10, Edwards 5-(-12).
Passing -- (3-8-0-0, 43 yards) -- Edwards 3-8, 43 yards.
Receiving -- (3 catches, 43 yards) -- Frame 2-32, Welty 1-11.
Next game -- South Putnam hosts Tri-West at 7 p.m. next Friday.