SPORTS >> Quarterback hurt, Falcons falter
By MIKE GARRITY
Special to The Leader
An injury to North Pulaski quarterback Shyheim Barron proved to be the turning point in a hard-fought defensive game in which the Mills Comets beat the Falcons 20-6.
The game was tied through three quarters, but after Barron’s injury the Falcons turned the ball over three times in the final 13 minutes.
Barron had the Falcons (1-7, 1-5 5A-Southeast) driving for what would be a go-ahead score before the injury. North Pulaski had a first down on the Comets’ 20-yard line, then Barron ran a quarterback keep and gained three yards, but the play was negated by a holding penalty and Barron was helped off the field.
“He went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter and that took us out of rhythm on offense a little bit,” Falcons coach Rick Russell said. “But the kids competed well and we gave it our best shot. We are proud of them.”
On the next snap, reserve quarterback Marshall Shipley tried to run a keeper, but the Comets Anthony Bizzell ripped the ball out of his hands and returned it to the 39.
“When Barron went down, our next quarterback came in,” Russell said. “With the wet ball and him not having a chance to take any snaps to warm up, we had some turnovers. The weather probably had something to do with that. Sometimes that happens in football, and I think that is what happened. He controlled the ball well when he had a few reps under his belt.”
After the teams traded punts, North Pulaski started a drive at its 44, but another fumble on the first play gave the ball back to Mills. This time Chris Neal recovered at the Falcons 43.
The Comets responded immediately as Clark took a pitch around the right side and went 43 yards for a score.
“We did enough in the second half to win the game, and we will take it,” Comets head coach Patrick Russell said. “You will always take a bad-looking win over a beautiful loss anytime.”
Shipley threw an interception on the next Falcons possession and finished the game 2 for 4 for 5 yards.
“We played hard. We were right there tied in the fourth quarter,” Rick Russell said. “Mistakes are part of sports. The team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win the game. On the first turnover, they scored right away and that was it. But our kids played hard.”
Following the fumble, the Comets (5-3, 3-2) drove 61 yards and took the lead on a 5-yard run around the right side by Stephen Clark, who finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Clark was limited to just 11 yards on a pair of carries in the first half.
“He is a good back, who started getting into the flow,” Patrick Russell said. “He is a big back that has a chance to break some tackles and we started pitching it to him. That is what you have to do in the option. You can’t just rely on the dive and the quarterback keep, you have to pitch the ball.”
Mills relied heavily on Clark’s running in the second half, as he picked up 102 yards and both fourth-quarter scores that iced the game.
“They were running the option in the first half and we did a pretty good jump of stopping them,” Rick Russell said. “In the second half, they started overloading and running the sweep to him. They had more blockers than we had out there. They were chipping away and finally broke one. Give them credit, they did what they had to do to win. We stopped them, and then they made some plays and we didn’t.”
In the first half, neither offense played particularly well, as the Falcons compiled just 58 yards while the Comets had 52.
After forcing the Comets to punt on the first possession of the game, North Pulaski orchestrated a seven-play drive that covered 51 yards and scored when Billy Barron went up the middle on a 3-yard run that gave the Falcons a 6-0 lead with 7:32 left in the first quarter.