With so many players in new positions or playing at a higher level than before on Indian River’s varsity football team, it would seem logical that there may be some growing pains. But, despite glitches, the Indians came through in clutch situations for a 20-14 win over Cape Henlopen on Sept. 8.
Indian River was without starting right tackle Steve Alessi because of a knee injury he suffered in the preseason, so the Indians would try out five new starters on the offensive line. Their hard work opened up enough holes to allow sophomore running back Isaiah Phillips to crank out 119 yards on 14 carries.
Junior starting quarterback Nick Kmetz started two games last year, in place of an injured Eric Givans, and despite throwing a few errant passes in the first half, Kmetz showed why the coaching staff has so much confidence in him.
Cape Henlopen tied the score 14-14 on a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Daniel McPike to Alec Driskill. Driskill shredded Indian River’s secondary, catching six of McPike’s 10 completions for 67 of his 83 passing yards and, though Kmetz completed only 3-7 passes for 63 yards, four fourth-quarter plays established him as a bona fide playmaker.
Kmetz converted a 16-yard pass to senior fullback Perry Townsend on 3rd-and-7 for their first first-down of the drive and kept the chains moving
A pair of penalties (holding and false start) negated Indian River’s march to that point and moved them into 1st-and-25, but an 8-yard run by Phillips trimmed that to a tough 3rd-and-17 situation.
Indian River ran the same sprint-out pass they had run all night, but the Vikings were able to force Kmetz back into the pocket on his sixth passing attempt and, despite having daylight up the middle, he stopped, set his feet and let the ball go to a wide-open Danny Bokinsky for a 40-yard completion.
Two plays later, he did tuck the ball instead of trying to make a tough throw, for an 8-yard gain on a 2nd-and-10, which set up another first-down conversion by Townsend.
Once Indian River had grinded its way down inside the 5-yard line, head coach Jim Bunting knew it was time to pound it in for the sure touchdown.
They motioned the overload player from the right side, Dominic Morris, to the left side in hopes to move the defense toward that direction and, once the ball was snapped, Kmetz flipped the ball to Townsend for the 4-yard touchdown run.
“We motioned away and the linebackers bit on it, so all we needed was one block,” Bunting said, “and one-on-one, I’ll take my boy Perry every time.”
Despite kicker Pierson Roenke’s third touchback of the game following Townsend’s go-ahead touchdown run, Cape Henlopen was still able to move the ball at a pretty good clip. They crossed into Indian River territory, reaching the 49-yard line, with 42 seconds left. And since McPike and Driskill had so much success, it wasn’t a surprise that Cape’s field general tried to get him the ball to tie the game.
McPike launched the ball deep down the Indian River sideline but Driskill wasn’t really that close to the ball. Kmetz kept on his horse and made a laid-out catch to secure the game-clinching interception, despite bobbling the ball initially.
Cape Henlopen did run the ball well. Isaiah Brisco tallied 93 of the Vikings’ 155 total rushing yards on 30 carries. Cape Henlopen controlled the first drive of the third quarter and capped the nine-minute, 80-yard drive on a 3-yard touchdown run by Casey Fagan.
Indian River had only 33 total offensive plays on six possessions, and 69 defensive plays seemed to wear their defense down.
“Be it on both teams [offensive and defensive], you’ll get worn [when your teams can’t get off the field],” Bunting said. “They felt they could come straight at us and did.”
Indian River had only three returning defensive starters but twice stonewalled Cape’s offense in scoring position (28- and 3-yard line, respectively).
Indian River’s bend-but-don’t-break defense earned them the first notch in their belt following the Cape Henlopen win and Bunting is confident that his team will tighten the screws in the coming weeks.
“Everything we did wrong is fixable,” he said. “From the injuries to the mental mistakes — we can fix it. But we have to be focused. We had breakdowns in the secondary because our defensive call either wasn’t made [correctly] or it was misunderstood – but that’s fixable.”
Kmetz didn’t wrap up on a few plays and Bokinsky had a hard time trying to keep in Driskill’s hip pocket, but either way Bunting’s philosophy is that there’s always another play.
“If you make a mistake, you’ll have another opportunity to make up for it. Danny Bokinsky had a great game in my opinion. It was bittersweet. He was going against one of the best receivers and he did the best he could, but, by God, didn’t he step up.”
Indian River (1-0) will travel to play Stephen Decatur on Sept. 15 for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Indian River defeated Stephen Decatur 19-7 at Indian River’s new stadium last year.