There were probably a dozen scenarios in which the Fenwick Lions would lose their first-round playoff game to the two-time defending Jr. Diamond Football League champions the Elkton County Saints on March 4. The Saints amassed a league-high 169 points on their way to a 5-1 regular-season record, compared to the Lions’ 74 and 2006 league championship contender Norfolk Chiefs (60).
The game should’ve been a mere formality for the high-octane Saints, and the Lions were supposed submit, to be happy they had won their remaining regular-season games and squelched a three-year playoff drought — but it wasn’t, and they weren’t.
“They definitely were an inspired group of players,” said Saints Head Coach Mark Lukk. “They played us for four intense quarters and two overtime periods. You have to take your hats off to those kids.”
With less than a minute to play in regulation, the Lions defense thwarted a 29-yard Saints field goal and thereafter nudged the ball out enough from the 1-foot line to keep from losing by a safety. The underdog Lions went on to defeat the 2004 and 2005 league champs 12-6 in a dramatic double-overtime victory.
The Saints scored first, on a third-down, Chris Cummings play-action touchdown pass to tight end Jason Babbitt, which left the Lions with their turn from the 10-yard line. They hadn’t had much opportunity for offense except for a couple convincing drives in the second quarter. But when Lions Head Coach John Stevenson headed into the huddle on a Saints second-down timeout, he knew instantly to whom he would give the ball.
Wingback Josh Lee wanted the ball. He wanted and could score the touchdown. He wanted to beat the Saints in the first round of the 2006 playoffs and he wanted to avenge the 31-0 Week 3 loss to the Saints, his only defeat since joining the team.
“Going into the huddle, when I looked into his (Lee’s) face and saw his eyes, I knew I had to get him the ball,” Stevenson said. “It was almost to the point where he was hyperventilating, but I knew what that meant — he’s was wired. He’s a player, and the whole team rallied around him. You could tell the whole team wanted it.”
Stevenson called a toss sweep for Lee that gained a yard, bringing up third down. R.J. Moore’s third-down, 6-yard touchdown pass to Lee nearly wasn’t, but he made the ultimate stretch and grab for the touchdown — and the 6-6 tie following the muffed extra-point attempt.
“When I threw the ball, (immediately) I was nervous, because the ball came out wrong. But Josh has great hands,” said Moore.
The Lions kept the momentum going in double overtime and on the heels of Lee again. Stevenson moved Lee from wingback to fullback, and from there Lee bulldozed his way behind the offensive line on two straight plays, bringing up 4th-and-1. The Saints’ defensive line is big and oppressive, but nobody was going to stop the Lions from banging in the go-ahead touchdown. Moore tucked behind his line on the quarterback sneak and a 12-6 lead.
The Saints tried to hammer the run that had been so efficient all game, but the Lions defense were brimming with energy and thwarted that effort, so they reverted to the pass. The Lions’ defensive backs defended two of three in completions, to seal the victory.
The Saints held the ball nearly the entire second half on two time-consuming drives (19 and 11 plays, respectively) but the Lions’ defense held them out of the end zone. The Saints gained 136 yards with a rotation of seven fresh running backs.
Andrew Berry led the Saints with 50 yards on 17 carries, but each served a purpose. Mike Henry attacked the Lions’ perimeter defense for 35 yards on four carries. Ryan Myrick and Josh Quirk did the heavy lifting, grinding it ahead for three yards a clip. Quirk added 27 yards on six carries. Myrick only had eight yards on three carries, but each run resulted in a first down.
“Last time (in the Week 3 loss), we didn’t defend their counter (very well) and even though we shut it down they were still getting off it (line of scrimmage) pretty good for three yards a pop,” Stevenson said.
Linebacker Abe VanCuren led the Lions with nine tackles, but it was the defensive line that made most of the noise.
Sussex Central varsity sophomore defensive tackle William Blake, Richard Wilson and Marvin Miller owned the line of scrimmage. Blake led the group with 6.5 tackles. Wilson tallied 1.5 sacks and two tackles, and Miller added three solo tackles.
“It was pretty awesome,” Stevenson said. “We were pretty much eating the quarterback up every chance we got. Their penetration kept them from running that counter because we were knocking their center into the pulling guard.”
The Lions’ season has come full circle from its back-to-back loses to the Chiefs and Saints in Weeks 2 and 3, to earn back-to-back wins over their former conquerors. Their 12-6 win over the Saints earned them a shot to play the Chiefs for the league championship at Dover High School on March 12, with a 3 p.m. kickoff.