SPORTS>>Falcons open with victory
SEARCY — After a relentless second-half comeback, the Lions almost broke free from the cage.
North Pulaski sophomore fullback Darius Cage had his way with the Searcy defense in the first half, carrying for 84 yards in the Falcons’ 21-15 win on Friday at Lion Stadium.
The Falcons did all their damage in the first half, scoring three times for a 21-6 halftime lead. But after the second kickoff runback for a touchdown by Jerald Blair was called back on an illegal block penalty to start the third quarter, the rest was all Searcy.
Searcy was in position for the go-ahead score in the final five minutes, but a solid defensive stand by the Falcons in the red zone ended that chance, and a pair of first-down runs by Bryan Colson ran out the remainder of the clock for the Falcons’ second win in the last 41 ballgames.
“We kept trying to make adjustments,” North Pulaski coach Tony Bohannon said. “They were going five wide, and we weren’t able to get that penetration in the middle like we needed to, and on the corners a little bit, but we had one or two really big plays, and that helped us.”
North Pulaski felt the White County humidity on Friday, with a number of players going down with cramps in the second half.
According to Searcy coach Bart McFarland, the those minor injuries were more detrimental to his team than their opponents.
“We just didn’t execute when we needed to,” McFarland said. “They did. They went out, got first downs, and we couldn’t get anything going offensively. Every time we got something offensively, they had somebody down with a cramp. We were trying to hurry it up, and that really destroyed our momentum right there at the end. That’s just the way it is. We didn’t punch it in, and you have to give them credit.”
Cage and Colson combined for 38 yards on the first NP drive to start the game, but it was a pair of pass plays that were key to the opening score. Senior quarterback Andrew Allen found Marshall Shipley on 22-yard pass play that took the ball close to midfield, and then closed the deal with a 16-yard touchdown toss to Michael Fleshman on the left side on a play-action bootleg with 6:54 left in the first half. Matt Ingersoll added the point-after to put the Falcons up 7-0.
A Daniel Thurman interception at the Searcy 41 led to the second score, with a 2-yard run by Colson with 7:47 left in the first half to cap off an eight play, 41-yard drive. The ensuing Searcy drive stalled out at the NP 45, forcing the Lions to punt.
Blair took the 35-yard punt from Steven Seitz at his own 10, bobbled it on the ground back to the five, and then turned on the afterburners, carrying it 95 yards for what would have been a record return, but it was called back on a hold.
“We’ve got work on our conditioning some more,” Bohannon said. “We’ve been telling them all year that the humidity was going to hit, and it did. Of course, it was hard enough trying to keep up with them. (Searcy’s) going to be okay. They completed a lot of passes tonight. We weren’t able to get as much pressure inside, the way they run it, but they did a good job.”
Bohannon also had penalties high on his list of must-improves after the game, but still relished the win.
“We’ve got to take care of those mental mistakes,” Bohannon said. “But this shows them that what they believed all along was true; that they can win. The key to this whole thing is that group of guys — those seniors that stayed with us. In the past, we had guys that would go here, go there and play, but this group has been together since middle school, and that’s what makes it work.”
The callback on Blair’s 97-yard TD run to start the second half after a Searcy drive that went nowhere was a sign of things to come in the second half. Instead of six points, the Falcons offense started the second half at their own 13, and a fumble on first down gave it right back to the Lions with their best starting field position of the night.
They took advantage with a 2-play drive that ended with a quarterback draw by Matt Ingle from seven yards out for the score.
Seitz missed the point after on Searcy’s first score, a 21-yard pass play to Jason Jennings at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter, forcing the Lions to go for two in the third quarter, but Ingle overshot his target in the end zone leaving the score 21-12.
Seitz made up those points in the fourth quarter with a 26-yard field goal attempt to make it 21-15, but a holding call on the final Searcy drive of the night backed the Lions up from the NP 21 back to the 31-yard line. Ingle made up some of that with a 12-yard pass to Preston Tarkington, but the Falcons forced two incompletions, one in the end zone on fourth down to take back possession.
Cage rushed 23 times for 109 yards. Colson ran 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons had 271 yards of total offense. For Searcy, Ingle completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 173 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Lions finished the night with 252 total offensive yards.