Very few underclassmen have had the repetitions or the ability necessary to contribute on the varsity level. But, recently, a good number of Indian River High School’s junior varsity players have seen playing time, particularly in their last two lopsided non-conference wins.
The junior varsity team usually plays its games in the late afternoon of a weekday, or occasionally a Saturday morning, with only a smattering of fans in the stands. It is a far cry from the “Friday night lights” of the varsity football stage, so receiving playing time at the varsity level is considered a privilege.
Indian River head football coach Jim Bunting wants all of his players — varsity and junior varsity — to play hard, whistle to whistle, quarter to quarter, and game to game, regardless of the score. He wants them to “autograph their performance” throughout each game.
And on Sept. 25, his junior varsity team did just that, against Sussex Central’s squad. Unfortunately Indian River’s junior varsity players left the wrong autograph on their performance, and Sussex Central downed the Indians 24-8.
Sussex Central’s triumvirate of sophomore running backs, led by scat-back Jordan Jones and 200-pound bruisers Zeno William and Josh Shockley, throttled Indian River’s defense for 262 yards on 31 carries and three rushing touchdowns.
Sussex Central’s offensive dominance yielded three touchdown runs on their first three possessions and maintained three drives of 12 plays or more. And they twice scored on drives of seven plays.
Jones received the lion’s share of the workload and rattled off 115 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run, on 14 rushes. Thirteen of his rushing attempts came on sweep plays and Sussex Central was able to expose Indian River’s periphery for 157 of its 262 rushing yards.
Williams nearly eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark himself but fell just short, with 99 yards on only 10 carries, and had two touchdowns. Both touchdown runs came on fullback dives and went for 19 and 40 yards, respectively.
Josh Shockley is also listed as a fullback but wasn’t nearly as fast as Williams. Still, he gained 44 yards on five carries. Two of his carries totaled 35 yards and both were on sweep plays.
“I was not really pleased with what I saw Monday night,” Bunting said of the Indians JV squad. “Our defense really stunk. I think we had four ballplayers out there trying to play. We couldn’t stop anything. They killed us with the sweep in the first half and then with the toss in the second.
“Our coaches made adjustments at the half but if you don’t have kids out there that are willing to block or tackle then you’re not going to get results.” Bunting said. “There’s no magic formula. If you don’t do these things, then you’re going to get beat.
“They work all week long to perform on a stage,” Bunting continued. “Friday nights are a bonus. Mondays are where they have to showcase, and if they can’t play hard for a full 48 minutes, if they can’t handle that, then they need to get off the bandwagon. And I know that sounds harsh but its essential for our future and our present.
“That’s why I like to think we have a program here,” Bunting said. “The next year and the year after that, we’ll be looking at players for quarterback and offensive guard.”
Indian River tied the score at eight apiece in the first quarter, when freshman quarterback Justin Rines connected with sophomore running back Darjuan Pitts for an 82-yard touchdown pass, but Indian River’s offense would sputter for most of the game.
Indian River turned the ball over on downs twice, on drives of nine and 10 plays, which happened to be their first and last drives of the game. They mustered only five first downs, and one of those came on a two-play passing drive around midfield just before the half expired.
Sussex Central had seven first downs in the first half and tallied 14 for the game.
Pitts led the Indians with 57 of their 101 rushing yards and Rines completed 4-8 passes for 105 passing yards. But it wouldn’t be enough to close the gap against their county rivals.
The rasp of Bunting’s voice in a telephone interview the following day reflected the zeal with which he and his coaching staff had endeavored to correct the mistakes made in the Sussex Central game, but he made it quite clear that all the JV players had a chance to redeem themselves.
“We try to give them what I call ‘wiggle room,’” Bunting said. “But they need to look in the mirror and say. ‘Did you autograph your performance?’ I went [and played football] to John M. Clayton [High School] years ago and I had friends that went to Sussex Central. But when we strapped it up — we were enemies.”