By Shannon J. Allen
Sand Mountain Reporter
Photo: West End’s Matthew Hood (30) catches a touchdown pass in front of Gaston’s Matthew Rich during a spring football scrimmage on May 19 in Walnut Grove.
Sardis, Hokes Bluff, Gaston and West End participated in a spring football jamboree on May 19 in Walnut Grove.
“I just thought it was good for this county to have four good county schools together,” said West End head coach Kyle Davis. “We had a good crowd and got to watch some good football, and now we get to move into the summer.”
The Class 4A Lions beat the Class 2A Patriots, 16-0, in a quarter of varsity play.
Sardis’ Drew Vaughn scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 7:40 remaining.
Quarterback Logan Gaskin ran for two points, giving Sardis an 8-0 lead.
Temon Wilson intercepted a West End pass at his 40-yard line with 2:09 left to set up the Lion other scoring drive. On the final play of the quarter, Gaskin lofted a 30-yard touchdown pass to Josh Maynard. Vaughn ran for two points.
Davis said that he and Gaston head coach Swane Morris wanted to play a larger school in their opening quarters of the jamboree.
“They were bigger than us and stronger than us and had more kids than us, and we knew we were going to get beat up pretty good that time,” Davis said of playing Sardis. “Swane and I both knew that second half against each other, a couple of smaller schools, that we would get more true looks.”
Landon Johnson connected with Braydon Hill for a pair of scoring passes, propelling Hokes Bluff past Gaston, 14-0, in one quarter of action.
Johnson fired an 80-yard touchdown pass to Hill with 5:06 on the clock. Nickey Jenkins nailed the extra point, making it 7-0.
Johnson then found Hill for a 35-yard touchdown on the final play of the quarter. Jenkins added the extra point.
Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson noted that his goal in spring training was to evaluate new players and keep everyone healthy.
“I guess you could say that it was a success because both things happened. I did notice one thing in that our lack of speed showed up. We don’t have the speed we had last year, so we’ve got some work to do in the weight room and try to get better.
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“Obviously we lost a lot of talent from last year, but do I think we’re blessed with a good group of players.”
Hokes Bluff defeated Sardis, 7-6 Sardis, in two quarters of action. The Eagles’ Darrian Meads, who rushed for 1,839 yards last season as a freshman, ripped off a 65-yard gain to Sardis’ 23-yard line. Michael Smith then sacked Johnson for a 9-yard loss to the 27, stalling the Eagle drive. Chase Bright broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone.
Sardis scored its touchdown early in the second period. Gaskin kept the ball for 32 yards to Hokes Bluff’s 12. Following a 2-yard loss on a running play, a scrambling Gaskin rifled a 14-yard touchdown pass to Maynard with 8:44 remaining. Gaskin’s two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
Sardis’ Michael Turner recovered a Hokes Bluff fumble, but the Lions fum-bled it away on the next play. Eric Pollard recovered for the Eagles with 6:10 to go. Hokes Bluff reserve quarterback Will Clemons scored on a 1-yard run with 2:24 left. Jenkins’ extra point made it 7-6.
The Eagles’ Tyler Braswell picked off a pass with 18.9 seconds remaining.
“We dressed 73 three kids in all in the spring, and we got them all onto the field, which is a plus,” said Sardis head coach Gene Hill. “We also didn’t get anybody hurt, which is a definite plus. We were a little inconsistent at times, but overall I thought we looked fairly decent on offense. I was really pleased with the defense; our kids really ran to the football and tackled well, which was kind of a surprise. “I think we’re a little bit stronger and faster than we were last year at this point. We’ve got a lot of work to do this summer, but overall I was pleased with our spring.”
Hill was also pleased with the performance of Gaskin, a rising senior who will enter his fourth year as the Lions’ starting signal caller.
“We’re going to have to depend on Logan’s arm and his legs this year,” said Hill. “He’s a big, strong kid who has a lot of experience, so we’ve got to keep him healthy.”
The host Patriots toppled Gaston, 14-0, in the final two quarters of the jamboree.
West End scored on its first possession. Quarterback Payne Stancil, who passed for 2,421 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago, hit Marcus Strickland with a 35-yard pass.
Levi Armstrong’s 7-yard carry to the Gaston 23 converted a fourth-and-five situation.
Stancil capped the drive with a 10-yard scoring pass to Nick Campbell with 6:19 on the clock. Stancil kicked the extra point.
The Patriots added their second touchdown with 2:37 left in the first when Stancil connected with Matthew Hood from 10 yards out. Stancil kicked it to 14-0.
Gaston’s Lane Talbot recovered a Patriots’ fumble at the West End 21 at the 8:55 mark of the second period. West End’s defense responded by forcing a fumble near the goal line, which Michael Patton picked up and returned to the Pats’ 35-yard line with seven minutes to play.
Hood intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards to the Gaston 30 with 1:20 left.
“The biggest thing for us this spring is we’ve tried to coach attitude, effort and output,” Davis said. “Obviously on paper, if you look at our team, folks are going to say you lost an Andre [Little], you lost a Jordan [Malin], you lost all your secondary, you lost all your skill guys. There’s no way you can be as good as you were last year.
“Obviously we’re not here to replace those guys, because I don’t think you replace them. What we do have is a good group of kids that are coachable and they work hard. I honestly can say every day of spring practice was a good day.
“We had some success and we had some failure tonight. We got beat up in that first half physically and bounced back in that second half. I think some guys had to have some gut checks a little bit, and they sucked it up and went back and played and some good things happened for us.”
Morris, who is entering his 14th season as Gaston head coach, has guided the Bulldogs to 12 state playoff appearances.
“Gaston’s the kind of team that if you’re going to play them, you sure want to play them with 10 days of practice and not eight or nine weeks of practice,” Davis said. “Swane does a great job. He just gets them better, better and better as each week goes on, and they’ll be right there again just like they always are in the playoffs.”
Morris pointed out that the 2017 Bulldogs would feature a number of new players that will require extensive coaching over the next few months.
“I thought that we moved the ball well at times and played good defense at times, and we came out without anyone getting hurt,’ he said. “We ran a lot of new schemes on offense to see if they would fit us, and that was a big thing to get through.
“But to me, the biggest thing coming out of a spring game is to get an idea of people’s capability in certain places. Sometimes you can make a misread on a kid in thinking that he can handle a position and it turns out that he might not be suited for that.
“I’ve had springs that we have looked amazing and had a bad season, and I’ve had springs we’re we looked bad and had an amazing season, so you can’t read too much into it.”
Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this story