“They were hitting at first but I kept lowering my shoulder and as the game went on I could see that they didn’t want to hit anymore,” said Indian River running back Josh Gott.
“Josh (Gott) was primarily a blocker for us last year with Therman (Hagans) running the ball, but he’s getting the live reps and is comfortable running the ball. He looks like he has his feet under him,” said Indian River Head Coach Jim Bunting.
Gott bulldozed his way to 275 yards on 28 carries and earned all three of Indian River’s touchdowns last week in a 21-14 win over Woodbridge. When he wasn’t trucking apprehensive defenders he was showcasing his footwork as he spun and high-kneed to lead his team to victory.
“We have three 220-pound fullbacks and I know that I wouldn’t want those guys hitting me constantly,” said Bunting. “And Gott’s not going to run around you — he’s going to initiate contact.”
On the flip side, Indian River’s defense not only contained Woodbridge’s star running back Jordan Wescott to only 42 yards on 16 carries but held their entire offense to a little more than 100 yards of total offense.
“Besides Josh Gott, the defense was the player of the game,” said fullback/middle linebacker Perry Townsend. “We held an All-State running back to less than three yards a carry.”
Townsend noted that Wescott is a preferred cut-back runner so backside defense was vital.
“In a 4-4 defense, the center is uncovered — so he would block the backside linebacker, but our defensive line was able to clog the line and our backside linebackers were able to make plays,” he said.
Though Indian River was able to shut down their second All-State running back this season, they still had a hard time finishing off Woodbridge. Field position and missed opportunities played an integral part in the game — for both teams.
Woodbridge pounced first on poor Indians field position and Jermael Joiner returned a blocked kick 10 yards for their first score of the game. Gott rattled off a 59-yarder to pay-dirt to even the score at 7-7.
The third quarter was a war of attrition, with neither side gaining a foothold in either team’s position.
Woodbridge had a golden opportunity to go ahead of Indian River when linebacker Ryan Messick stepped in front of an Eric Givans pass intended for tight end Tyler Hastings. The Blue Raiders missed another gem when Tyrone Hickman dropped another would-be interception for a touchdown, deep in Indian territory.
Messick couldn’t convert, and Indian River averted tragedy by punting from deep in Indian terrain. Toeing the 20-yard-line, Townsend put the boot to the ball and nailed a 41-yard punt to the Woodbridge 39, but an unnecessary roughness penalty by defensive end/offensive guard Phillip Townsend negated the booming punt and tacked on additional yards that the Blue Raiders couldn’t convert into points.
“We’re addressing our penalty situation this week in practice,” said Bunting. “The physical mistakes we can handle, but it’s the mental mistakes we can’t have.”
Penalties disrupted both teams, but none could have hurt more than a false start penalty on a seven-play Woodbridge drive that would squelch a Blue Raider scoring drive.
Woodbridge had just crossed into Indian territory and was in a third-and-2 scenario when a false start by the left guard pushed them back into a third-and-long situation — which forced the Blue Raiders to pass. Indian River’s play-making free safety, Nik Kmetz, busted up the pass attempt to running back James Harmon to force a punt.
“Our punter did a great job of pinning them inside the 20, but you have to give credit to their running game,” said Woodbridge Head Coach John Parker. “They kept on coming and kept on coming.”
Parker continued to play the percentages in the fourth quarter and punted the ball to wait for one of his play-makers to bust something loose.
“I told my guys that there would be a key opportunity to win the game but they wouldn’t know when so to be prepared on any play,” said Parker. Unfortunately for Woodbridge, they had seen their opportunities come and go, but they would get another chance to even the odds later in the game.
Woodbridge put themselves in position to stop the Indians by pinning their opponents inside the 15 (12, 11 and 10) three consecutive times, but the third possession proved to be the charm.
A first-and-10 at the Indian River 10-yard line would get pushed back because of a false start so the Indians would have to march 95 yards if they wanted to win. Indian River ran the ball, made the necessary pass plays and dug deep in the playbook for the go-ahead Josh Gott 6-yard touchdown.
Gott carried the bulk of the load for Indian River on their 14-play drive and earned 51 yards on seven carries, which included the go-ahead touchdown.
Givans completed two straight passes to wide receiver Andy Bokinsky. (One of his three receptions was a 17-yard completion on a critical third-and-5 play.) The clincher was a Josh Dean reverse to get the Indians inside the red-zone to set up the go-ahead score.
Uncomfortable with only a touchdown lead, Bunting called for the pooch kick and their meticulous scouting had paid off because kicker Andrew Cordell-Carey’s perfect kick ricocheted of Tyler Smack and a hustling Scott Bollinger was able to recover the loose ball to give Indian River an opportunity to put some more distance between them and their opponents.
“We noticed on film that most of their guys turn their heads once the ball is kicked and we tried to kick it to who couldn’t catch it,” said Bunting.
With only 30 standing between them and a more comfortable lead, Indian River running back Matt Williamson trudged his way along the left side for a 16-yard scamper that set up Gott for his third trip to the end zone.
Woodbridge wouldn’t go quietly, though, and with little more than two minutes remaining Blue Raider kick returner Joiner returned the kickoff into Indian River territory. They were able to strike equally as quick on a 22-yard touchdown completion from Dawone Dowling to Greg Johnson.
Woodbridge would attempt the on-side kick and fail but Parker was pleased with his teams as well as his opponents’ performance.
“Both teams fought their guts out there,” said Parker. “This was a great high school football game and I was proud to be a part of it.”
Woodbridge lost to Indian River 35-0 last year, so a 21-14 loss might be a victory in disguise or a rallying cry, but Bunting wasn’t quite as pleased with his teams’ efforts.
“We have to eliminate the penalties, especially in the red-zone,” said Bunting. “We had 75 yards in penalties and one inside the 5-yard line. We felt we could’ve played better. Anytime you have 370 total yards you should win 35-0, and we only won by a touchdown. We’re still only playing 24 minutes.”
Townsend echoed his head coach’s sentiments, saying their effort may have been good enough to get past Woodbridge or any of the other teams they’ve played – but not the contenders.
“If we played like that against Laurel — they’d punch us in the mouth,” said Perry Townsend.
Indian River is set to travel to Lake Forest for their Oct. 7 match-up but will host three straight home games against Delmar, Laurel and cross-town rival Sussex Central. Game time for all the games is 7 p.m.