By Craig Harris for The News Examiner (FULL ARTICLE LINK…)
WHITE HOUSE – Two points weren’t the difference.
However, those two points may have made the biggest impact on the outcome of Tuesday evening’s season opener between the Portland West and White House middle school football teams.
The Blue Devils overcame a slow start to capture a 16-6 victory at Dewey H. Whitson Stadium.
“It’s a win against Portland,” White House head coach Clint Niehaus said. “Coach (Kyle) Lane always has a well-coached, fundamentally-sound team. Any time you can beat Portland, it’s going to be a good win. It’s a big win.”
The Panthers scored on the game’s opening possession, but three turnovers prevented Portland West from scoring again.
“As a play-caller, I got out of rhythm some,” Lane said. “The penalties knocked us out of rhythm. It’s hot so you compensate for those things (with additional substitutions). That knocks you out of rhythm. The rhythm was lacking.”
The Panthers’ opening possession was a nine-play, 61-yard scoring march.
Halfback Kobe’ Dutcher had three first-down carries on the progression, including a 21-yard dash, and quarterback Gino Bellavia ran for 8 yards.
Dutcher capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone, but he was tackled short of the goalline on the two-point conversion run.
Dutcher picked up 110 of his game-high 135 rushing yards in the first half. He averaged nine yards per carry.
“That was a nice drive,” Lane said. “Our offense moved down the field well. Our offense executed well. We kind of answered what White House does. We ran right at them. It was a nice drive for us. It’s the way our offense is designed to run.”
The Blue Devils’ opening possession ended with a 44-yard punt that was downed at the Portland West 4 yard line on the final play of the first quarter.
On the next play, White House defensive lineman Josh Strother tackled the ballcarrier in the end zone for a safety.
Following the ensuing kickoff rom the 20 yard line, White House started its next possession at the Portland West 45 yard line.
Six plays later, quarterback Andrew Nixon rolled to his right and passed to a wide-open Cameron Casanova for a 27-yard touchdown.
Tailback Keyvan Dickerson’s successful conversion run extended the lead to 10-6.
“The punt got them pinned in, and the safety turned the game around,” Niehaus said.
Five plays later, Casanova recovered a Panther fumble, and tailback Will Frazer ripped off a 47-yard run on the next play.
After Dickerson gained 9 yards, fullback Ethan Rainey covered the final 10 yards to the end zone.
Dutcher, Trey Gregory, Anthony Huicochea and Isaiah Lackey combined to tackle Rainey short of the end zone on the conversion run, keeping the score at 16-6 with 1:25 remaining in the half.
Thanks to Dutcher’s carries of 28 and 17 yards and an 11-yard reception by Gregory, Portland West moved the football to the Blue Devil 20 yard line before time expired in the first half.
“The drive right before half – even though we didn’t score – that’s a building block,” Lane said. “That was a well-executed drive. It was getting in and out of the huddle. We used our timeouts well, and it was against a good defense.”
The Panthers’ final two possessions of the game ended with turnovers.
Blue Devil linebacker Tanner Puckett hit Dutcher and forced a fumble that was recovered by Rainey with 5:23 remaining.
“The safety, long touchdown pass and two fumbles … take those away, and we are there at the end,” Lane said. “I don’t want to take anything away from White House, but that (knowledge) gives us something to build upon and learn from.”
Dickerson and Rainey picked up first downs on the ensuing possession before Nixon punted.
White House compiled 191 total yards (164 rushing). Four different Blue Devils rushed for at least 20 yards, led by Frazer’s 75-yard effort on five carries. Dickerson gained 48 yards on 10 rushes.
“That was the game plan, to rotate on the defensive line and in the offensive skill-player positions,” Niehaus. “We don’t have one great tailback. We have three guys (Dickerson, Frazer and Puckett) who can contribute, and we got contributions from all three.”
Portland West regained possession with 1:32 remaining, but Casanova intercepted a pass on the first play and returned it approximately 20 yards, allowing White House to run out the clock.
“I was disappointed in our intensity defensively,” Niehaus said. “That was a surprise. We made a small adjustment, but I don’t know if we ever really stopped them.
“Turnovers were big.”
The Panthers host Hawkins on Tuesday, while the Blue Devils host Shafer.
Sports reporter Craig Harris can be contacted at 575-7138.