Tough defense and a solid running game had been the Sussex County Warhawks forte in winning games the past two weeks, but both gave way in a 20-6 loss to the Talbot County Warriors on Feb. 25.
Starting quarterback Tony Eskridge was getting married in New Jersey and wasn’t a definite for the game (Even Vince Lombardi took time off for a honeymoon), so the Warhawks knew they might have to do without. Head coach John Boyer had limited options, but decided to go with receiver Lacii Cleveland. But without Eskridge at the helm, the Warhawks faltered under backup Cleveland’s one-touchdown, two-interception performance.
The Warrior game was Cleveland’s first action since the 61-0 loss to the New Castle Saints in week one due to an ankle injury, so they expected him to be a little slower — they just weren’t expecting him to have to run the quarterback position.
“It was up in the air if Tony would make it to the game so it was like ‘Boom — you’re quarterback today,’” Boyer said.
Cleveland completed two of three passes to start the game, including a third down 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Torrez Spence, but that success would wither.
The Warriors countered the Warhawks’ touchdown with a diligent inside-outside running game running game, aided by former Grambling running back Garnell Henry Jr. and Dennis Hardy. They loosened up the Warhawks with tough inside yards, which sucked in the defense, often leaving them out of position. The Warriors’ backfield found the open areas and bounced out runs for big gains.
“I told my defensive ends before the game (Warriors) that if they collapse down, that they’ll bounce it outside,” Boyer said.
Henry led the team with only 45 rushing yards on 10 carries, but rattled off two runs for over 10 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game at 6 apiece in the second quarter. Henry’s touchdown came as a result of Leroy Jenkins’ fumble on a punt return.
A hefty Hardy was willing and able to bust runs wide given an opportunity. He contributed 26 yards on only three first half carries. The Warhawks mustered a mere 61 total yards offensively, compared to the Warriors 86 yards (104 total yards) on the ground.
Consequently, the Warhawks weren’t able to move the ball in the air either. Cleveland tossed two interceptions to safeties Josh Knopp and Norman Townsend. Their third interception came at the hands of running back Martin Francois’ ambition to make water into wine.
He was contained on a toss sweep, and upon cutting it back into the interior of the defense, he noticed an open receiver about 15 yards away — but a poor toss landed well short, which led to one of their three touchdowns off turnovers.
The Warriors played a conservative passing game — utilizing mostly rollouts and hitch patterns to amass a modest 18 yards, but did manage to score two touchdowns through the air.
Quarterback Will Hall tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass in-between the two-deep coverage to wide receiver Julius Horton to give the Warriors a 14-6 lead heading into halftime. Horton would toss his other touchdown pass to Jarell Holliday with six minutes remaining in the game to give the Warriros a 20-6 lead, largely because of a double ejection of Hall and Warhawk linebacker Troy Haynes.
Haynes sacked Hall on second down and nine, but instead of heading to their respective huddles, they let jawing lead to pushing. Concluding the game, it was determined through the game film that Haynes was unjustly tossed out and a game-suspension and $50 fine wouldn’t be imposed.
The Warhawks were confident that they could win the remainder of their games following its 61-0 loss to the Saints, so the detour made in the Warriors game comes at a time to correct their play — bye week.
“Right now we need to work on consistency,” said Boyer. “Our line didn’t have great timing against the Warriors. If we’re going to be successful we have to run the ball to set up the pass. Defensively, we’ll have to continue to work with our defensive ends and new corners (defensive backs).”
The Warhawks resume league play against the Baltimore Nightmare on March 12 for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff at the Seaford Boy’s and Girl’s club.