The first quarter spelled trouble for Versailles Friday night.
The host Tigers went three-and-out on their first four offensive drives and Blair Oaks scored touchdowns on its first three en route to a 34-14 win in the Tri-County Conference opener for both schools. But despite the early deficit, Class 2 Versailles fought back and remained even keel the rest of the way with the No. 3 ranked Class 3 team in the state. A loss is never satisfying in any form, but the effort on display was something Versailles coach Broc Silvers could certainly be proud of.
“I talked to our kids all week about community and playing. How you represent yourself is kind of what the community sees,” Silvers stated. “They (community) are going to come back and if they don’t come back after an effort like that, they have no clue. I really think we responded there in the second quarter and hopefully this brings us a couple more wins here soon.”
A few key big plays defined the early going in favor of the Falcons. Blair Oak’s first touchdown came on a 4th-and-1 play that saw junior quarterback Nolan Hair take a 57-yard option keeper to the house. The next touchdown came on a 22-yard run from sophomore running back Riley Lentz after Hair set it up with a 63-yard pass on 3rd-and-17. Then, the Falcons made it 22-0 before the end of the first quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run from Lentz that came after a 3rd-and-11 conversion.
Versailles began to show some signs of life early in the second quarter, but a few penalties allowed the momentum to remain with Blair Oaks throughout the night. After a 25-yard pass from Versailles sophomore quarterback Coby Williams to senior wideout Kooper Wilson was negated due to a holding call, an errant throw from Williams led to a Falcon interception that set up the visitors on the Tiger 27-yard line. Moments later, Lentz proceeded to punch in his third score of the night on another 4-yard run to make it 28-0 and Hair was replaced by freshman quarterback Cade Stockman after an unknown injury.
Still, the Tigers were not discouraged and found some rhythm on the next series. Thanks to the efforts of the offensive line up front, and especially the duo of right tackle Chase Hyman and tight end Jonathon Geier, junior running back Grant Hutchison started to find some holes and executed a few nice runs that included a 14-yard dash as to put the team in striking distance. Hutchison finished with 59 rushing yards on the night. A few players later, Williams dove across the goal line to put Versailles on the board and make it 28-7 before halftime.
“Especially in the second quarter, we got to the edge a couple of times, ran really hard and ran over some people,” Silvers remarked.
The Tigers had an opportunity to do some more damage and cut the deficit in half after Hutchison recovered a Falcon fumble at the Blair Oaks 26-yard line. However, another holding call pushed Versailles too far back. The two sides remained scoreless in the third quarter, but Versailles showed a little spark with a 40-yard run from Williams. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that play was also brought back due to yet another holding call.
“It seems like every time we had a big play, it got called back and that happens,” Silvers pointed out. “I have no doubt the officials did a good job and I’m sure they were holds. I hate it for our kids, but they responded even when that was going on.”
After a few quick scores, Silvers was glad to see the Versailles defense settle in as the Tigers recorded 10 tackles for a loss. Hutchison made two of those tackles in the backfield as he led the team with 15 total tackles on the night and junior linebacker Michael Trotter got in the mix as well with a sack and 13 total tackles of his own. The coach also took the time to commend the play of sophomore Bryce Reynolds who usually plays linebacker and quickly transitioned to make his first start at defensive back Friday night.
"We had three days to get him ready to go and he played his butt off and has a couple of great tackles over there in man coverage," Silvers said. "Our run defense was also great and we wanted them to run the ball against us because it was going to shorten the game."
The two conference foes would each find the end zone one more time. Lentz put up his final touchdown run of the night from two yards out and Wilson, who was Williams’ favorite target throughout the night with seven receptions for 116 yards, pulled in a 65-yard bomb with just over three minutes remaining.
Versailles knocked on the door once more after a Hyman fumble recovery at the Blair Oaks 12-yard line, but were unable to find the end zone after a Williams fumble on fourth down. However, Silvers commended the play of his young gunslinger who kept his team fighting as he completed 10 of his 21 pass attempts for 149 yards and a touchdown.
“We wanted to be able to run the ball a little more and we did not have as much success there so we had to switch and go to more empty stuff,” Silvers said of the offensive game plan. “It is not what we really want to do because we had some shots on Coby and that kid was a warrior tonight. Hopefully he is going to recover and be healed up, but he is going to be sore for a while.”
Williams had narrowly missed a number of big throws earlier in the contest and finished the night with two interceptions, but he would not be denied that particular strike. Going forward, Silvers said there are a few things that need to be cleaned up.
“We missed a couple of open receivers. Some of the time we did not have enough time and sometimes we were looking the wrong way so I have to do a better job of coaching him up to help him get rid of the ball faster,” the coach noted. “That is going to come as a junior and senior as he gets more experience. Our offensive line can also do a better job pass protecting and those guys love Coby so I know they are working as hard as they can.”
At the same time, there were also a lot of things that went well. Silvers pointed to tackling, the run game, causing turnovers and a number of big plays that were made just to name a few. Now, the question is whether the Tigers can put it together for all four quarters next Friday at California.
“Here is the deal. We played three games better than we played last year so let’s do the same thing,” the coach said. “Last year, we scored late and were opportunistic to win that game… Hopefully this year we can come out and play a little better from the start and play as hard as we did tonight. I think we are going to be ok. You play a Class 3 team ranked No. 3 in the state that well, you can play against anybody so hopefully we play that hard and things go our way next week.”
The Tigers will meet the Pintos Friday night at 7 p.m.