Special teams’ play factors into outcome
By Cody Holliday
Friday night’s Oak Ridge High-Vista del Lago football game to kick off the season featured just about all that could go right — and wrong — on a football field: Two tantalizing kickoff returns for touchdowns; several long passes going for scores; defenses that came up with red zone stops; and lots of penalties. Despite the ups and downs, the host Trojans rode a wave of late first-quarter momentum to open the 2011 season with a 33-22 win over the visiting Eagles. “Our defense really carried us tonight,” Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere said. “They had a couple stops in the red zone and on fourth down — they really stepped it up tonight.” For visiting Eagle head coach Chris Jones in his fourth varsity meeting against the Trojans since leaving the program to take over Vista, the outcome ended the same. “It would definitely be nice to beat these guys that’s for sure,” Jones said. “We felt like we prepared well and practiced well for tonight. We just didn’t execute well enough and Oak Ridge is a good football team. Turning the ball over as much as we did, you’re not going to win a game doing that.” Troy struck first on their second possession, marching 64 yards in 11 plays. A Jason Samuels to Lance Berringer 10-yard pass gave Oak Ridge the early lead. Josh Wellman carried for 12 yards and Preston Dean 26 on the drive. The duo combined for 143 yards rushing on the night. “All the guys we have back that are running the ball for us, they all give us different things,” Cavaliere said. “I thought both Josh and Preston ran the ball well. Each week they’re going to get better and we like what they each bring to our offense.’’ Vista del Lago took its only lead two possessions later as Aaron Young hooked up with Logan Smith on a 19-yard scoring toss and a 7-6 lead. Young, in his first varsity game, finished 20 of 38 passing for 198 yards. “I thought we played well in spurts — on offense, defense and special teams. We just didn’t have any real consistency,” Jones said. “Two of the biggest plays were special teams play and it really put us behind.” The first big special teams play was on the following kickoff as Bobby Gatta fielded the kick and after finding a seam down the left sideline and eluding several would-be tacklers, raced 87 yards to pay dirt for a 12-7 Trojan advantage. Two possessions later, the punt team gave the home team great field position as Dylan Collie’s 45-yard return set up the Oak Ridge offense at the Eagle 12 yard line. Two Dean runs later, Troy was up 19-7. “Our special teams play came up big tonight,” Cavaliere said. “Offensively we weren’t as sharp as we hoped for but those two plays really gave us some momentum.” After forcing Vista to punt on its next possession, the Trojans needed just one play to score as Samuels hit Collie and it was off to the races for a 63-yard connection and 26-7 lead. Thanks to two personal foul penalties on the touchdown (Oak Ridge was penalized 123 yards on the night) the Trojans had to kickoff from the 10 yard line and it proved costly as Smith took the short kickoff, dodged a few tackles and was off for a 70-yard score to cut the lead to 26-14. “We played with a long field all night,” said Jones, referring to numerous drives starting at their 20 after Trojan Jon David Smith kicked four touchbacks. “Things really changed when we got the chance to get a return set up.” After Oak Ridge turned the ball over on its next possession, the Trojans defense held when Zack Claiborne came up with a sack to thwart the drive, one of three he had on the night. The defense finished with four overall along with two fumble recoveries and a Ben Sweet interception. “We worked hard all week and I thought we just really dominated their line up front,” Claiborne said. “We came up with some stops and just kept after it the whole game.” Oak Ridge’s Roman Andrus ended the Eagles first second-half possession after just three plays when he recovered a fumbled snap at the Eagles’ 30 yard line. Three different Trojans toted the ball on the short drive, the final 6 yards by Samuels to push the advantage to 33-14. Samuels finished the game 9-of-12 passing for 140 yards in his varsity debut to go along with the three touchdowns. “I thought Jason played extremely well tonight,” Cavaliere said. “He started out hitting on his first five or six passes. I thought he threw the ball well and made some plays for us when we needed them.” Vista’s final points came early in the fourth quarter as Andrew Willets returned an interception 11 yards for a score. After a Troy fumble on their next drive, the Eagles had a chance to get closer but a costly turnover at the Trojans’ 28 allowed the home team to burn valuable time off the clock. The Eagles’ final drive ended with an interception. “We suited up 17 new starters tonight, guys getting their first snaps in on varsity,” Cavaliere said. “We’ll go back to work next week and we expect to clean things up and be ready for next week. It was nice tonight to get things started with a win.” Wellman led Troy with 83 yards on 18 carries. Dean added 60 on eight carries. Samuels added 11 and a score. Collie had a game-high 101 yards on five grabs; Berringer added two catches for 19 yards; and Jake Rosada added 20 on two receptions. Ethan Pipion led the Eagles with 59 yards rushing on 17 carries. Chris Cooper had four catches for 88 yards; Smith added 53 yards on seven catches and Taylor Wisinksi added 48 on six receptions for the Eagles.