A critical defensive stop and ensuing 99-yard drive helped the Leesville football team earn a 27-16 win over Athens Drive on Friday, Sept. 12 at Hamilton Stadium.
6:11 remained in the third quarter when the Leesville defense faced the task of stopping Athens Drive on a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, seeking to hold on to a slim 13-10 lead.
The run play to the right was stuffed by Spencer Eason-Riddle, senior linebacker, allowing the Pride to take over just outside of their own endzone. The Leesville offense then marched down the field — spurred by two third down conversions by Trey Keeney, senior tight end — to the Athens 26-yard line.
After a timeout, it was trick play time: Clay Vick, junior quarterback, lateraled the ball to Mason Pyper, senior running back, who hurled the pass downfield to a wide-open Conner Eller, senior receiver, for an electric touchdown.
Leesville (2-1) would never relinquish the resulting double-digit, 20-10 advantage.
“Anytime you get a stop like that and then capitalize…that’s pretty big,” said Mike Hobgood, head coach. “There were two parts of it; getting the stop and then getting the huge drive and scoring was even better.”
Mike Dehaney, senior running back, broke loose for a 74-yard touchdown run with 9:48 left in the game to essentially seal the victory. Athens Drive (1-3) converted on a 4th-and-9 for a touchdown with 4:57 left, then recovered a fumbled Leesville snap with 3:56 left, but eventually turned over the ball on downs to kill any comeback hopes.
“[Dehaney] really stepped it up in the second half,” said Hobgood of his primary ball-carrier, who finished the night with 141 yards on 24 carries. “He’s not really that big but when he breaks one, he’s gonna go [all the way]. He did a great job of reading his blocks.”
The visiting Jaguars marched to the 1-yard line on their opening possession of the game, yet settled for a field goal. The Pride answered when a 42-yard pass from Vick to Nolan Schachle, senior receiver, set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Pyper.
Early in the second quarter, Athens reclaimed a 10-6 advantage, aided by the Leesville defense committing their first two of four pass interference penalties in the game. They appeared poised to enter halftime with the lead until a fumble with 27 seconds remaining gave the Pride the ball in Athens territory; Eller’s diving catch for a 12-yard touchdown reception with 3.4 seconds to play provided the home team with a 13-10 edge at the break.
“We started off slow, as we usually do,” said Dehaney. “We just picked up our toughness, showed up on ‘D’ and our offense picked it up.”
“We’re going to get better and better, and eventually we won’t be losing in the first half,” he vowed.
The Pride defense conceded only 16 points to Athens despite four trips inside the 10-yard line — an enormous improvement over the previous game, when Apex running back Isaiah Totten torched the unit for five touchdowns in a 44-14 rout.
“I thought our defense played a lot better,” said Hobgood. “We were more physical on defense and that was the No. 1 priority after the debacle against Apex.”
Leesville out-gained Athens Drive by a 387-267 yard margin despite the absence of leading receiver Elisiah Richardson, senior, due to an undisclosed injury. Vick, making his third varsity start, completed 14 of 22 passes for 172 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Keeney recorded six catches and six rushes for 71 total yards.
Leesville will face their toughest test of the non-conference schedule next Friday at Panther Creek (2-1). The Catamounts rallied from a 18-0 deficit to defeat the Pride 34-21 in last year’s meeting and routed common opponent Durham Jordan 41-0 on Friday night.
Nonetheless, Hobgood expressed content with the current win and optimism about the future.
“It’s always a huge game after a loss, and particularly after a bye week [when] you just have that bad taste in your mouth,” he said. “Now we’ve got something to build on that we’re pleased with.”