Pulling Starters In Fourth Quarter Nearly Costs Eagles
BRIDGEWATER – With nine minutes remaining and leading Emory & Henry by 20, Bridgewater College junior quarterback Willie Logan stood on the sideline, relaxed, cooling off with some Gatorade and watching the second-team offense get some repetitions.
It didn’t seem important when Logan’s backup, senior Carlos Gonzalez, dropped a snap, forcing BC to punt.
But then, Emory & Henry scored. Then BC fumbled, and the Wasps scored again.
Suddenly, the Eagles had a tight game on their hands – one that easily could have ended as a devastating loss, where the coaches may have been under intense scrutiny for calling off the dogs too early.
Instead, BC’s reinserted starting offense converted two crucial third downs with under 3 minutes left, preventing the Wasps from getting a chance at a game-winning drive and clinching a 27-21 win at Jopson Field.
“I’ll take the blame – from a coaching perspective, you probably saw, I flipped the switch too early,” 18th-year BC coach Michael Clark said. “That’s not to say – it’s 27-7, and we had just stopped ’em.”
Indeed, for three quarters and change, the Eagles (6-2 overall, 3-2 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference) dominated a game they had to win to stay alive for a conference championship and an automatic playoff berth. Sophomore wide receiver Jayme Perry was the hero of that segment, blocking a punt that set up a touchdown in the second quarter and laying out for a 29-yard touchdown catch of his own in the third.
When Logan scored from 2 yards out early in the fourth quarter, BC’s 27-7 lead appeared pretty safe. When Emory & Henry punted with 9:09 remaining, Clark was confident enough in that margin that he took out his starters.
“I’m not going to lie – I was relaxed with 8 minutes left or whatever, I was feeling good,” Logan said.
Even when the Wasps (4-4, 1-4) marched down the field with ease, ending with Spotswood High School graduate Chad Williams catching an eight-yard touchdown from quarterback Kyle Boden to make it 27-14, it hardly seemed relevant. After all, that drive came against BC’s second-team defense.
But then, the Eagles – who had been solid in just about every phase of the game for three quarters – began to unravel.
Lining up in an onside-kick formation, E&H kicked deep. Returner Jordan Hartman couldn’t get to the kick in time, and the ball somehow managed to reverse its forward momentum before the end zone after landing inside the 5-yard line. Hartman was forced to pick it up, and got tackled at the 6.
Three plays later – with the first-team offense back in the game – junior tailback Ryan Green-Ellis fumbled at the 38 as he was going down. The Wasps recovered, and Boden’s 31-yard scoring strike to wideout Sam Edmonds made it 27-21 with 3:31 remaining. E&H still had all of its timeouts.
“From a strategic point of view, I’ll take the blame, but from a player point of view, there’s no excuse to fumble in that situation,” Clark said. “That is inexcusable. Basically, for seven minutes, we gave Emory every chance to take that game back.”
But then, the Eagles’ offense reverted to its earlier form when it desperately needed to.
On 3rd-and-7 at the BC 29 with 2:43 left, Logan completed a 9-yard pass to junior wide receiver Shawn Lee, whose quick-out pattern turned around freshman corner Ryan Byrd, a Fort Defiance High School graduate.
“It wasn’t the perfect route to be honest with you, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” Lee said.
Three plays later, BC faced another third-and-long – this time third-and-8 – and offensive coordinator J.D. Shaw made a gutsy quarterback draw call. The athletic Logan needed just one cut to make it 16 yards to seal the game, as BC ran out the rest of the clock.
“We actually ran that [draw] earlier in the game, and it didn’t look as good as that one,” Shaw said. “…I thought they would play man coverage with the game being that close, and we knew they’d try to pressure. When teams play man coverage, it’s good to run the quarterback. Nobody accounts for that. To me that wasn’t a difficult call.”
While BC’s coaches were lamenting their quick trigger on pulling starters, E&H coach Don Montgomery was mulling his team’s slow start – including a few special-teams gaffes.
The biggest was Perry’s punt block on a play the Eagles had practiced all week. The ball rebounded off the unblocked Perry’s hands near midfield and rolled all the way to Emory’s 26. Two plays later, Logan connected with tight end Michael Colee for a 26-yard score to make it 14-0.
The Wasps also had a 25-yard field goal blocked on their opening drive.
“You figure it out,” Montgomery said, when asked how the Wasps’ special-teams errors impacted the game. “…[BC is] a good enough football team to beat us on their own without us giving it away, and that’s what I feel like we did.”
Of course, BC’s coaches would have felt the same sentiment – perhaps to an even larger degree – if they had let a 20-point lead slip away.
Clark, who said putting in his reserves had nothing to do with getting seniors playing time on senior day, dodged answering whether a team had ever come back to win against him after he inserted reserves. Shaw, in his first year as BC's OC, was more forward, saying he’d have to go back to the mid-1990s when he was an assistant coach at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania.
“Once you flip a switch, it’s tough,” Clark said. “Because once you make a move, the other guys shut down.
“…It had the potential to, but it did not, get away from us. That’s a live-and-learn.”