Leader Blues

Monday, September 24, 2007

SPORTS >>It’s over, NP beats Tech

Leader sportswriter

Falcon Stadium had an electric buzz in the air on Friday night over homecoming 2007 for North Pulaski High School, but the real fireworks would not begin until the final gun sounded, when the Falcon faithful looked to the scoreboard and saw a result they had been waiting on for 32 games, their team on top 39-13 over Greene County Tech.

It was a long overdue and well-deserved win for North Pulaski, who relied on incredible kickoff returns of 82 yards and 80 yards respectively by junior Jerald Blair. Blair was the first Falcon to touch the ball in the contest, and did so dynamically with an 82-yard dash that tied the game at 7-7, and repeated that feat at the start of the second half to put the Falcons on top for the first time in the game at 14-13.

The North Pulaski defense moved backwards on the Eagles’ first possession, but they would give up very little from that point on, dominating the second half to take their first win in almost three years.

“It’s over!” North Pulaski coach Tony Bohannon declared after the game. “It feels good for me, but it’s great for them. We stop one streak, and we start a new one now. So we’re going to get after it.”

The defense did solid work in the first half despite giving up a last-second touchdown pass for GCT to give the Eagles a 14-13 lead at the half, but they would shut Tech down altogether in the second half. The Falcons gained confidence with every succeeding play, and the NP crowd grew louder with every tick of the clock.

The final four North Pulaski scores went unanswered by the Eagles, giving the Falcons a winning conference record, and emotion that had not been felt on their own field in quite some time.

“I’ve got four seniors that have stuck with me through all of this,” Bohannon said. “But we only have nine total; the rest of them decided to go somewhere else. Well, they can go if they want to start all over again. I’ll take these kids here and this win anytime. This feels wonderful.”

Falcons senior running back Melvin Tenner made it obvious from the early moments of the game that he was not to be denied. Tenner had one first-down run in the first half in which he literally dragged six GCT linemen 24 yards down to the Tech 21-yard line. Tenner would end up missing a 26-yard field goal attempt moments later, but his statement to the GCT defenders on his brutal second-quarter runs straight at the Eagles’ line seemed to have a profound impact on their mindset in the second half.

Blair’s second run back of an Eagle kickoff for a score to start the second half gave the Falcons a charge, and Greene County Tech would never have momentum in the game again. The run only put North Pulaski up 14-13, but the enthusiasm on the sideline made it obvious that this game would not have the same result as the previous 32.

‘There’s no way to explain this in words, it’s just great,” Tenner said after the game. “If you think about it, we’re tied for first place in the conference. That’s a big step for North Pulaski football right there. We all came out here with a mindset tonight to just play a game like it’s fun. We work hard on the practice field, but we came out here tonight and did our thing and had fun.”

Tenner’s kickoff after the run back by Blair went about six yards deep in the end zone, giving the Eagles first and 10 at their own 20. They would drive all the way down to the Falcons’ 20, but the defense would step up again to deny Tech of a score. A 35-yard field goal attempt by Tripod was well short, and the Falcons would take over at their 20 with 8:06 left in the third quarter.

Blair’s highlights were not limited to kick returns. The junior all-purpose player also came away with the most impressive reception of the night. On third and 17 at their own 44, Falcons quarterback A.J. Allen threw to Blair on a slant, but GCT defender Trevor Deangelo stepped in front of Allen’s pass. The two went up, and while Deangelo had the ball in the air, it would be Blair that came down with it after picking it clean from Deangelo’s hands for 17-yard gain. Jeremy Flint would cap off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter to put the Falcons up 20-13.

What little life the Eagles had left was completely knocked out of them on their next drive, when cornerback Orlando Hicks swiped a Tripod pass at the NP 29-yard line. Hicks barely stayed in bounds on the interception catch, but dragged his foot just enough before the paint to get credit for the pick.

The first play of the final quarter would be the beginning of the end for the Eagles, as Tenner plowed his way 13 yards for only the second offensive touchdown for the offense at that point. That gave the Falcons a 26-13 lead, and the remaining 11:54 of the game would be all North Pulaski.

The next drive for Tech stalled out at midfield, and the Eagles would hand the ball over on downs. Tenner, who had been the workhorse all night while teammates performed dazzling feats all around him, put an exclamation point on the win with a perfect 32-yard halfback pass to Thurman for the final score of the game with 6:49 left to play.

One more interception by Blair added insult to injury for Tripod and the GCT offense, as the Falcons ran out the final 5:29 of the game.

Senior offensive guard Jimmy Mecalo was one of many Falcons overcome with emotion after the game. Even in the thrill of the big win, Mecalo was of the mindset that there were also Falcons on the field that could not be seen, as he referenced former teammate Chris Matthews, who parished in a tragic auto accident earlier this year.

“We get down, but we get back up,” Matthews said as he tried unsuccessfully to hold back tears. “I want to thank God and my friend Chris. I wish he were here with us. I felt like Chris was in my heart, and with the team helping us to victory.”

Tenner led the Falcons with 164 yards rushing and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also had one completion on one attempt for 32 yards and a touchdown. Blair had 265 yards of all-purpose offense, including two touchdowns. The Falcons finished with 332 total yards; compared to 224 for Tech. Tripod completed 8 of 18 pass attempts for 87 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions.

The Falcons are now 1-3 overall, and 1-0 in the 5A-East Conference. They will travel to Beebe next week to face the unbeaten Badgers, a 35-0 winner over Paragould last night.