SPEEDWAY -- The game played out like so many of South Putnam's football contests this year.
Two strong defenses stood toe-to-toe for four quarters, neither team willing to yield. The protection occasionally bent, but rarely broke. Both teams waited for the other to blink.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the game also ended like all those others, as they fell to ninth-ranked Speedway 7-0 on Friday night.
After three and a half quarters of big hits, near misses and all-around well-played football, Speedway's Kyle Linville went up above two defenders to haul in an eight-yard pass from Johnny West with 8:31 to go in the game. The Courtney Walton kick made the game 7-0, its final tally.
"We let it get away from us," Burgess told them. "I feel bad for you guys because you fought tooth and nail with a good football team. I'm proud of you, but we have to be able to make those plays."
The game certainly turned on a few plays for the Eagles, who outgained the Sparkplugs (6-1, 5-0 WCC) in first downs, rushing, passing, total yards, time of possession and total plays.
They just couldn't outdo Speedway on the scoreboard.
Three big missed opportunities on offense made the difference for South.
After a battle of punts through most of the first quarter, South Putnam took possession at their own 48 and proceeded to control the ball for the next seven minutes. The drove 46 yards on 14 plays, but couldn't convert a fourth-and-one from the Speedway three.
Two Speedway possessions later, Derek Tomaw made a big defensive play, as a West pass popped out of Linville's hands and into his own. Tomaw returned the pick 19 yards to the Speedway 26.
However, South could once again not convert, gaining no yards in three plays. The ensuing Jake Gould 43-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
For its part, the Sparkplug offense could generate little. After driving into Eagle territory on the game's very first drive, they spent the remainder of the first half on their own half of the field.
The first half ended with a scoreless tie.
The Eagles came out energized in the second half. Freshman Zach Smith returned a short Linville kickoff 16 yards to the Eagle 40, setting them up with excellent field position.
South made good use of the position, too, chewing up 45 yards in six plays. Facing a third-and-seven from the Sparkplug 15, though, the coach made what he acknowledged was an ill-advised call.
The Eagles ran a halfback pass that resulted in a fumble. Although South recovered, they had lost 17 yards.
"The play caller on that one made a bonehead call," Burgess said, ribbing himself and his call. "That has to go on my shoulders. We took Jake out of field goal range."
They still sent Gould out for the 49-yard attempt, but it came up well short.
Facing adversity, though, the South defense proceeded to give the quintessential bend-don't-break performance on the next drive. Speedway was hitting on all cylinders, as they made four-straight first downs at one point on the drive. However, with only two yards to go and two downs to make it, they could not cover the most important piece of turf on the field. The Eagle defense held and kept the game scoreless with 3:45 remaining in the third.
"The kids picked me up on that one," Burgess said.
The Sparkplug drive came on their first possession of the fourth, and South had two chances to match them.
On their first, they drove from their own 38 to the Speedway 31 before Drew Cash fumbled and the Sparkplugs recovered.
Speedway's punt on the next drive died at the three-yard line, pinning South 97 yards from the end zone with only 2:40 remaining. Cash's running and Edwards' arm got them to fourth-and-four at the Speedway 44, but they couldn't convert.
On the final offensive play, Edwards rolled out to his left, stumbled, dropped the ball, picked it back up, eluded the sack and still nearly found the hands of a receiver.
But it wasn't to be. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground and preserved Speedway's 7-0 victory.
"This is a tournament atmosphere," the coach told the team. "Let's not lose like this in the tournament. Let's not beat ourselves. Let's make a pact that we're going to beat those teams. Let's make a pact that the next team who beats us is someone who flat outplays us.
"Don't get down. Don't quit," he added.
Edwards' passing was the main weapon for South on Friday, as he was 14-of-25 for 140 yards. Cash led the running attack with 105 yards on 23 carries.
The coach pointed out what a tough atmosphere Friday was. Speedway is the No. 9 team in Class 2A and it was senior night.
"Our kids came in her and fought. I'm so proud of our kids. The fought, and I feel terrible for them," Burgess said.
The Eagles might be the best 2-5 team in the state. Their five losses are to teams with a combined 28-7 record.
Unfortunately, they are still 2-5.
This isn't a fact they can dwell on, though. Next Friday promises to be another hard-hitting affair, as they Eagles host Monrovia at 7 p.m. in another WCC contest.
"That will be another physical game. They're well-coached and they're physical. Our kids will be ready. We've only been a play or two away," Burgess concluded.
|South Putnam||0 0 0 0 -- 0|
|Speedway||0 0 0 7 -- 7|
Spd -- West 8-yd. pass to Linville (Walton kick) 8:31
South Putnam (2-5, 1-3 WCC):
Rushing (41 carries, 148 yards) -- Cash 23-104, Tomaw 11-23, Edwards 5-(-7), Knight 2-11, Welty 1-9, Team 1-(-17)
Passing (14-25-0-0, 140 yards) -- Edwards 14-25, 0 TD, 0 INT, 140 yds.
Receiving (14 catches, 140 yards) -- Frame 4-38, Zimmerman 2-29, Nelson 2-25, Cash 2-21, Welty 2-8, Tomaw 1-20, Hernandez 1-9
Speedway (6-1, 5-0 WCC):
Rushing (31 carries, 134 yards) -- Hubbard 16-52, Avance 5-38, Linville 5-32, McGavoch 4-13, West 1-(-1)
Passing (7-14-1-1, 95 yards) -- West 14-25, 1 TD, 1 INT, 95 yds.
Receiving (7 catches, 95 yards) -- Linville 3-73, Fath 2-28, Avance 1-6, Hubbard 1-(-10)
Next game -- South Putnam hosts Monrovia at 7 p.m. next Friday.