SPENCER -- The opening game for the irresistible force and the immovable object, commonly known as South Putnam and Owen Valley on the season schedule, has been a game over the last decade and a half defined by punishing ground games and stout defenses.
Friday night was no different as the Eagles and Patriots came out hammering away at one another at Owen Valley High School.
But, as had been the case in the previous three seasons, South Putnam's offense put up big plays while the defense held firm throughout in a 35-0 win to open the 2011 season.
The Eagle defense set the tone of the game early. After kicking off to the Patriots, South Putnam forced a quick three and out before beginning a ground attack that covered 67 yards, with only a five yard offside call against the hosts on a 4th and 4 situation, on their way to their first score.
Rob Gibson, who would be the main gear of the offense all night, would cap off the drive with a four yard plunge off of the right side of the Eagle line before adding the extra point to make it 7-0 South Putnam halfway through the first quarter.
The game soon became stuck in the middle of the field as the Eagles forced another three and out before the offense turned the ball over on downs.
Owen Valley, holding solid field position, netted a first down but also would give up possession on downs. Three plays later, a streaking Gibson took a pass from quarterback Seth Hammond and sped away from the Patriot defense for a 69 yard touchdown reception, an extra point, and a 14-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter.
The next Patriot possession saw them try to pass their way back into the game. The result was a first down, followed by three consecutive sacks by Ty Hewitt, Ryan Chestnut and Tanner Thompson and a partially blocked punt by Rudy Harris that set the visitors up on the Patriot 43.
Gibson, along with Zach Smith and Wade Custis, then propelled the Eagles down the field again, this time ending with Gibson again scoring over the right side of the offensive line to extend the lead to 21-0.
Owen Valley's frustration began to show on the sidelines as their next possession went nowhere as players and coaches looked puzzled as to what to do against the Eagle defense.
With a little over two minutes to go, the Eagles covered 75 yards to score with :13 seconds left before halftime. Gibson, Smith and Lucas Lorian kept the pressure on the Patriot defense, with strong runs, setting up fullback Cody Heller's 10 yard score to up the lead to 28-0.
South Putnam started the second half right where they left off, slamming into the Patriots with hard running from multiple backs before Heller lost the ball on the Patriot 20.
The hosts showed their first signs of getting a long drive together with two first downs on the following possession but for a second time lost the ball on downs, setting the stage for the final South Putnam score.
A Lorian run was followed by a penalty, a pass that was nearly intercepted and then a touchdown as Lorian took a handoff and went left before handing off to Gibson, who was had two blockers going right with him and nothing but the end zone in front of him as he completed the scoring to give the Eagles a 35-0 lead in the third quarter.
The 54-yard touchdown run was Gibson's last, finishing his day with 15 carries for 147 yards and four scores.
The teams would trade possession several times before the hosts made one final push for a score. Late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots went on an 11 play drive that saw their efforts fall short after Gunnar Ranard's pass to Dylan Winkler was caught but later fumbled, scooped up by Gibson at the Eagle 15. Three knees from Hammond later, the Eagles walked off with their first win of 2011.
Afterwards, former Owen Valley and current South Putnam head coach Troy Burgess spoke to the effectiveness of the squad.
"We played to our strengths tonight, and our strength is our guys up front. We've got big guys, and when I say big, I'm not talking about weight wise, but we've got big, strong kids up front. We're physical there and we've got good offensive and defensive linemen," Burgess said.
"We like our skilled guys in the backfield. That's where our experience come from. We've got seniors coming out of the back field, so we were able to come out of the gate, set the tone and play to what we feel is our strengths: line up, get the ball to our backs and let our big guys up front do their job."
The Eagles switched from a 3-4 scheme last year to a 4-3 scheme Friday night, helped in part by the depth of the defensive line, a key part to Burgess' squad.
"I though the defense played extremely well. The one nice luxury we have right now is we've got about eight defensive linemen we can rotate, and with guys rotating in, we can keep them fresh up front. We feel comfortable with any of them playing," Burgess said.
"Anytime we hook up with Owen Valley, it's going to be a little bit of a mirror image. (Patriot head coach) Duane (Potts) tries to do the same things I do. We've coached together for years, so it is like looking in the mirror a little bit."
"But defensively, I thought our kids flew around, with the exception of the last drive. I though Owen Valley did a nice job of mixing the run and pass and our kids made a couple of mental mistakes there, but overall, great defensive effort," Burgess added.
Special teams play for the Eagles went seamlessly, even though there was major changes in several spots.
"This is the first year in four years I've had to find kickers and long snappers because I had Jake [Gould] and Seth Arnold. They did this for four years and were pretty darn good. We've got Sawyer (Arnold), another Arnold in there, snaps for us. Another Gould, Sam punts for us and Rob (Gibson) kicks," Burgess said.
"I thought our special teams were solid. We had good kick coverage. Our one return here, we about broke it. We were five for five on extra points and our punt team did a nice job, so I'm very pleased with our special teams."
Next up for South Putnam is a tricky trip to Tri-West, a game that Burgess says will show ho far his Eagle squad has come along early in the season.
"Tri-West has a great football tradition. They've moved up to 3A and have a lot of tradition, a lot of athletes. It's a game that we like early in the year because it's a test, a chance for us to play against very good athletes and it gives us a chance to measure against their speed and size," Burgess said.
'They're going to be big and physical, have a lot of speed and it's a great test to prepare us for our conference."
At Owen Valley
South Putnam 7 21 7 0 -- 35
Owen Valley 0 0 0 0 -- 0
SP -- 6:27 Gibson 4-yard run (Gibson kick) 7-0
SP -- 10:15 Gibson 69-yard pass from Hammond (Gibson kick) 14-0
SP -- 4:11 Gibson 3-yard run (Gibson kick) 21-0
SP -- 0:13 Heller 10-yard run (Gibson kick) 28-0
SP -- 4:27 Gibson 54-yard run (Gibson kick) 35-0
SP -- Gibson 15-147, 3 TD's; Z. Smith 6-45; Lorian 5-45; Riner 5-20; Heller 3-14, TD, Fumble; Patrick 3-11; Custis 2-11; B. Smith 1-12; J. Waters 1-3; Hammond 3-(-3)
OV -- Bradley 19-112; Ranard 10-(-20); Smith 3-4
SP -- Hammond 2-4-95, TD; Gibson 1-69, TD; Smith 1-26
OV -- Ranard 8-19-69; Rice 5-23; Scully 2-15, Fumble; Swafford 1-31