After getting dragged through the mud in a 61-0 beating by the mighty New Castle Saints, the Sussex County Warhawks dished out payback to the Queen Anne County Thunder on Feb. 11, beating them 9-0 the good ol’ fashioned way: running the ball, play-action passing and playing tough, don’t-give-an-inch football.
Still without their defensive standout middle linebacker Tremond Conway, the Warhawks needed a polarizing force, and Jonathan Meiklejohn fit the bill. He led the team with seven tackles, forced one of two fumbles, kicked a field goal and helped the team limit the Thunder to only three first downs all game.
“Jonathan has really stepped up,” said Head Coach John Boyer. “He brings his game face every week, and no matter what it is — whether it’s causing a fumble or getting an interception — he’s going to do something to make the defense rise up.
The havoc created by Meiklejohn gave the defensive line an opportunity to get one-on-one match-ups and they made sure not to waste them.
Defensive lineman Troy Haynes led the team with two quarterback sacks and added a forced fumble. Defensive tackle Pat Willey chipped in with a sack and two tackles, and offensive lineman/defensive tackle Cophen Brown recovered a fumble. But no play was more important than the tipped pass to give the Warhawks their first touchdown of the year.
Defensive tackle James Jackson reeled in a tipped pass to score from 10 yards out for the go-ahead score of the game. Jackson’s score held so much weight because the Warhawks offense had trouble scoring in the red zone.
Five times they marched down the field, but they scored only once (on 1-3 field-goal kicking from Meiklejohn), and two touchdown passes were dropped due to a cast on receiver Terrez Spence’s arm.
Despite perfect symmetry of the offense (126 yards rushing and 120 yards passing) the Warhawks still are working out the kinks on the team’s revamped offensive line.
False starts ruined any chances of punching the ball into the end zone. Third-and-one on the one-yard line became third-and-six, which limited their play selection.
“Second-and-15 just isn’t going to work,” said offensive coordinator Butch Yocum. “We need second-and-six or second-and-five to win.
In an attempt to mix up the play calling, Yocum called a quick-pitch pass, which surprised Boyer but gave the Warhawks some much-needed confidence heading into their next week of practice before taking on the Kent County Fire on Feb. 18.
“Usually Butch lets me know what he’s going to run — but not this time,” said Boyer. “It turned out to be a big gainer for us.”
Running back Martin Francois tossed the pitch-pass 33 yards to wide receiver Josh Ward for one of his four catches for 94 yards. Francois led the team with 85 rushing yards.
Yocum admitted that he doesn’t use trick plays often, but in this case he felt it was necessary.
“I’m kinda not into trick plays, but this week we ran the pitch-pass and a reverse that gained 25 yards to give them some confidence,” said Yocum. “Confidence is the key, and once the ball starts moving, it all goes from there.”
Right tackle Shane Wooten was moved from center after committing countless turnovers in the devastating loss to the Saints but like his teammates rebounded with a new sense of self.
“Most of our yards came behind our right tackle,” said Yocum. “He kept pounding his chest and I kept calling plays to run behind him.”
The Warhawks will host the Fire at the Seaford Boy’s and Girl’s Club (across from Seaford High School) on Feb. 18 at 11 a.m.
Last season, the Warhawks split the season series with the Fire by winning the first game 27-14 but lost the second-to-last game 9-6, which kept them out of the playoffs. The Warhawks had tremendous success passing the ball in their win, throwing for over 230 yards and two touchdown passes. Wide receiver Andre Matthews hauled in seven passes for 165 yards and one touchdown. Though he is no longer with the team, the similar-sized Ward is sure to keep improving to fill the void.
“He’s good,” said Yocum of Ward. “He has sweet moves and can make people miss but at 6’2”, 190 (pounds) it’s going to take two or three people to bring him down. With that size, he can make things happen all day.”