By Rob Potter
HANCOCK September 8, 2006 Last September, the Eldred Yellowjackets opened their season with a lopsided victory over the Hancock Wildcats, a Section IV Class D team.
Eldred went on to finish the season with a 9-2 record and win the Section IX Class D title.
While it is only the second week in September and no one can predict exactly how this gridiron season will play out, Eldred began its 2006 season in a similar manner to how it started the 2005 campaign.
In a game that was filled with penalties and turnovers, the Yellowjackets scored a touchdown in the final minutes of the third quarter and added two more TDs in the fourth quarter to record a 39-18 victory last Friday night over the host Wildcats.
Eldred (1-0) held a 19-12 lead at halftime, but that advantage was narrowed to a single point in the third quarter. Midway through the quarter, Hancock (0-1) drove inside the Yellowjackets 20-yard line. But Eldred recovered a Wildcats fumble to take over possession on its own 13-yard line.
However, a bad exchange between the center and quarterback caused the ball to squirt free and a Wildcats defender pounced on the pigskin.
Hancock only had the ball for two plays. On a third-and-goal near the Eldred 4-yard line, the ball popped loose and the Yellowjackets recovered it.
Like its previous possession, Eldred fumbled on first down and the Wildcats recovered.
On first-and-10 from the Eldred 15, Hancock running back Aaron Gorshack took a handoff from quarterback Chris Hallstead and dashed to the end zone. Down 19-18, the Wildcats went for a 2-point conversion in order to take the lead. But the Eldred defense stopped Hancocks James White well short of the goal line after he caught a pass from Hallstead.
The Yellowjackets answered the Wildcats TD with an 11-play, 51-yard scoring drive. With 1:10 remaining in the quarter, Hilton Johnson capped the drive by running off left tackle and plowing into the end zone from 4 yards out.
Phil Talley then booted the ball through the uprights to give Eldred a 26-18 advantage.
The Yellowjackets extended their led by scoring twice in the fourth quarter. With 4:43 remaining, Kevin Prunka went up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown. Talleys extra-point kick was blocked by Hancock linebacker Karl Anderson, but the Yellowjackets still had a 32-18 lead.
The Wildcats tried to respond with a scoring drive of their own, but the Yellowjacket defense would not allow that to happen. On a third-and-four play near midfield, Hallstead dropped back to pass. He fired the ball downfield toward one of his receivers, but Prunka intercepted the pass. He then sprinted 50 yards to the end zone.
Talley tacked on the extra point to give the Yellowjackets a commanding 21-point lead (39-18) with just 3:07 left in the game.
Hancock had the ball inside the Eldred 10-yard line in the final 10 seconds of the contest, but could not reach the end zone.
Theyre very good, Hancock Coach Walt Smith said of the Yellowjackets. They beat us with their quickness.
It was the first game of the season and both teams had their miscues, he added.
But the veteran coach noted that Eldred seemed to recover from its miscues better than his relatively young team did.
We just have to put this game behind us and prepare for next week, Smith said.
Leading the Wildcats offense were Gorshack, Hallstead and John Marino. Gorshack carried the ball 15 times for 150 yards and Hallstead completed 7-of-17 passes for 160 yards. Marino finished the evening with three catches for 128 yards. Most of Marinos receiving yards came on a 71-yard touchdown pass from Hallstead in the final seconds of the second quarter.
That scoring pass allowed Hancock to pull within 19-12 at the half.
Prunka led the Yellowjackets attack by rushing for 140 yards on 24 carries. Johnson added 74 yards on 14 carries and Tom Compasso ran seven times for 45 yards.
McCormick, who rushed for 41 yards, completed 2-of-6 passes for 85 yards. McCormicks first completion was the first score of the game a 55-yard touchdown pass to Sean Colley with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
Its a good start to the season, Eldred Coach Frank Kean said. Its always tough to win up here.
He praised his team for keeping its composure throughout the game, especially during the third-quarter sequence when both teams kept turning the ball over.
In my past 27 years of coaching, when mistakes would happen, the players would lower their heads and say Here we go again, Kean commented. But these guys didnt do that tonight. They kept their heads up and kept playing hard. Im very proud of them for doing that.