The good news is the Indian River High School football team has likely already faced their toughest test this season.
The bad news is 2015 Maryland Class 3A regional semifinalist Linganore still handed the Indians a 61-0 loss in their opener on Friday, Sept. 9.
After making the trip from across the bridge, the Lancers took the field at Indian River High School’s football stadium — a.k.a. “The Steele Cage” — in front of a packed house of green and gold, which included alumni from the 1960s and 1970s who were being honored at halftime. The teams appeared early on to be evenly matched, despite a student population back in Frederick nearly doubling that of IR.
The Indians were able to force a quick three-and-out on defense to start the game, and senior RB/S George “G-Mart” Martin was able to return the ensuing punt 22 yards, down to the 40, and into Lancer territory.
Offensively, however, IR also struggled to move the chains on their first drive.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Snead got the start under center — the first time a freshman has taken on the starting QB role since the legendary Jamie Jarmon in 2009 — and joined freshman running back Kevin Custis in the backfield and under the lights for the first time, after both players had helped Selbyville Middle School to undefeated season as eighth graders in 2015.
“I thought they handled it real well,” said head coach Phil Townsend of his freshman starters in their debut, which on defense also included Custis at corner, defensive ends T.J. Moore and Jodiah Morris and tackle Ramond Turner.
“They’ve never played in an atmosphere like this, and I feel like they stepped up, for the most part.”
After their own three-and-out on offense, Custis downed a punt from senior Mac Smith that bounced all the way down to the 5-yard line.
Despite being pinned back deep in their own territory, however, the Maryland-powerhouse showed off their ability for the big play, when junior QB Zach Willet hit senior wide out Alec Matthews in stride for a 70-yard scoring strike that made it 7-0.
After that, it was all Lancers, as they stole the momentum and the show.
On their next possession, junior running back Zamarre Snowden ripped off an 86-yard run to go up 14-0, and Matthews would block a punt and return it to the house himself at the start of the second quarter, for his second score of the night.
The three-touchdown advantage occurred with the IR offense knocking on the door behind Martin, who pummeled through would-be tacklers and broke into the secondary for a 30-yard gain, down to the Linganore 47, while still in the first quarter. Later on the same drive, while facing a fourth-and-14, Martin took the snap on a fake punt, to find Custis coming back on a Lancer defender to haul in a 33-yard pass for a first down.
Martin would finish with 15 carries for 65 yards on the ground, with senior RB/CB Gerald Foreman seeing only three carries in the game, after he struggled with a cramping issue.
The Indians’ offensive efforts failed to light up the scoreboard, as ultimately, four turnovers — including two lost kickoffs — contributed heavily to the win.
“The turnovers killed us,” said Townsend. “I think, after they scored the third touchdown, we gave up our momentum a little bit.”
After being handed a tough loss to start their season — and for the freshman-heavy lineup, their careers — Townsend said, he was encouraged by his team’s response. Especially his senior leaders, who as juniors learned that the most important games begin in Week 4, against Henlopen South opponents.
“What’s great about the team that we have is tonight no one pointed fingers, no one got down on each other, everyone kept their head up, which is something that can’t be coached,” Townsend said of his squad.
“That’s what’s special about this team: they realize that if they continue to work together as a team, the South is in reach. The South is ours to take.”
While the Indians will look to shake off the loss, they’ll be facing another tough test this week, when they head to Georgetown to take on Division I Sussex Tech on Friday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m.
Rushing: G. Martin 15 carries, 65 yards; G. Foreman 3 carries, 13 yards
Passing: G. Martin 1-1, 33 yards
Receiving: K. Custis 1 reception, 33 yards
Punting: 6 punts, 37.1 yard avg.