Better lose now than later, said Indian River offensive/defensive interior lineman Phillip Townsend. Indeed, the football team lost their first game of the season, 21-9, against county rival Sussex Central on Oct. 28. The closely contested game hinged on each play, possession and, eventually, turnovers.
Both teams committed three turnovers, but Indian River’s were the most deadly. Indian cornerback Josh Dean intercepted Knight quarterbacks three times, but they could only muster a 25-yard Andrew Cordell-Carey field goal for their first score in the first half.
Indian River fumbled the ball twice inside the red zone — theirs and Sussex Central’s. And it’s difficult to stop any team from scoring from only 20 yards out — which is exactly what the Knights did.
Running back Matt Williamson put the ball on the ground in the second quarter, and the Knights made them pay two plays later.
Knights Head Coach John Wells replaced his starting quarterback, Brad Hilovsky, with D.J. Long because he was unsatisfied with his 1-8 and two interception first-half performance. Long made them pay and completed his first pass from scrimmage to wide receiver Brian Scott on a fade pass to an indefensible position in the back right of the end zone, giving the Knights a 7-3 lead.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have depth at the quarterback position this year,” said Wells. “Last year we had a lot of injuries, and it’s nice to have three guys on varsity that can start. Brad can pass and run. D.J. runs the offense pretty good and R.J. Moore can play, too. We’re really blessed.”
“It’s really hard for a defense to stop an offense from scoring with a short field,” said Indians offensive/defensive interior lineman Bryan Lynch. “It’s a handicap no matter how good your defense is.”
Sussex Central dominated the ground game in the first half — out-rushing the Indians 101-71 and earning two more first downs. But Indian River would right their ship in the second half.
Indian River dominated the time of possession and logged 93 rushing yards and seven more first downs, compared to the Knights’ 16 rushing yards and only one first down. But Wells’ squad found a way to win.
Williamson capped off a 14-play drive with a leaping 2-yard go-ahead touchdown on fourth down, giving the Indians a 9-7 lead in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The remainder of the final quarter looked more like a ping-pong game — each team going three-and-out or turning the ball over. Dean intercepted his third pass — that time off of Long. But the Indians were unable to mount another drive, and Sussex Central took over on downs.
Hilovsky manned the Knights’ helm once again and didn’t waste any time making a play. He tossed a 63-yard touchdown pass to Scott for his second touchdown of the game, giving the Knights a 14-9 lead following the extra point.
Wells attributed their success in the passing game to the success of their running game in the first half.
“I think we were successful in the passing game because we kept them honest with our running game,” said Wells. “We only had seven or eight plays, but I think they were anticipating the run.”
A Knight touchback left Indian River with 2:12 and 80 yards to pay-dirt, but they would only get one chance. On first down, Indian River lined up in a pro-left formation with Dean lined up at the flanker position. Givans took a three-step drop and delivered the ball Dean’s way, but Scott jumped the pattern to intercept the pass for a 20-yard touchdown return.
“In football, you run plays that set up other plays. And we’ve seen Indian River run that play, but we knew they were trying to set up a stop-and-go,” said Wells, “Brian made a great read.”
The interception return put the Knights well ahead, at 21-9, with less than two minutes remaining. It was disappointing loss, but the Indians are determined to finish strong. That determination marked the week of practice leading up to their Nov. 4 game against Seaford.
“We need to start getting pissed, play with attitude — and it starts on Tuesday,” said Lynch. “We need to get into that mental state of mind.”
Townsend said losing to Sussex Central was disappointing because they’re a big rival and every win is important — but losing can ignite a fire.
“I think the loss helped a lot,” said Townsend. “At this point, it’s a pride thing. We’d rather win the state championship, then beat Central and lose in the tournament.”
Indian River will travel to Seaford for a 7 p.m. kickoff Nov. 4 and finish the regular season face-off with Smyrna on Veteran’s Day in another 7 p.m. home game.