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Indians climb back for thrilling second half against Trenton

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28-0 deficit nearly erased

By Sean Arnold

The Chiefland football team faced a steep enough challenge for its opening week in taking on rival Trenton, a school that entered last Friday having defeated the Indians seven straight seasons by an average of 29 points.

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But then a flu bug devastated the program, even sidelining its head coach, during the week in the run-up to the game.

After the game kicked off, the Indians found themselves mired in yet more adversity, as they turned it over four times in the first half on fumbles – including on fumbled snaps on three consecutive drives – to help the Tigers leap to a 28-0 lead.

The game was teetering on the brink of becoming another lopsided Trenton win, the kind it’s enjoyed in five of the previous seven years, and every year since 2013, when Chiefland hung tight with the eventual state champions in a 17-14 loss.

But then something happened.

Junior quarterback Wyatt Hammond twice connected on long plays with fellow junior Kirk Williams, including on a 32-yard touchdown pass that saw Williams leaping at the goal line to haul in the score with 1:12 remaining in the opening half.

CMHS kept the momentum rolling into the second half, nearly catching the Tigers, before Trenton steadied itself for a 37-21 win.

“The great thing about youth on a football team is they really buy in,” first-year Chiefland head coach Adam Gore said. “But the bad thing about youth on a football team is sometimes it shows on the football field.

“You can try as a coach to cut corners and get there as fast as you can, but you’ve got to play your way into that process. I give the analogy of jumping into the pool. Right now, we’re sticking our toe in the water. When we start jumping in, that’s when it’s going to be pretty music out there.”

On Chiefland’s first possession of the third quarter, a Trenton facemask penalty and a tackle-busting run by junior Hunter Barrand helped place CMHS inside the Tiger 25-yard-line.

On fourth-and-4, Gore reached into his bag of tricks and dialed up a play the team had only installed the day before: Hammond snuck out of the backfield and brought in a 23-yard touchdown reception from running back Tramaine Brown, cutting the deficit in half at 28-14, after a second PAT by junior kicker Noah Nguyen.

“They got us on that play down here,” first-year Trenton head coach Lyle Wilkerson said. “I still don’t know who caught the ball. It was a good game plan.”

On the ensuing Tiger possession, punter Tyrique Baber tried to tuck and run on a punt attempt against an approaching Chiefland rush, but was stopped for a turnover-on-downs at the Tigers’ own 26.

On third-and-8, senior tight end B.C. Fehmerling was tackled while going out for a pass, drawing a pass interference call and setting up his Indians at the 12 yard-line. Senior Brian Norris Jr. then ran for eight yards to set eventually set up a 3-yard, pile-moving TD run by Hammond.

Chiefland, improbably, considering its start to the game, found itself poised tie the game after CMHS sophomore Jarrett Jerrels recovered a stripped Trenton fumble near midfield with 4:29 still remaining in the third quarter.

But a personal foul against Chiefland set the Indians well behind the sticks, and a 14-yard pass on third down from Hammond to Barrand wasn’t enough to moves the chains. An incomplete pass on fourth down then turned it back over to the Tigers at the TMHS 44.

Trenton then grinded out a 15-play, Randy Fuller-led touchdown drive, culminating in a 2-yard score by the senior for a 35-21 lead, moments after the fullback was flagged for hurdling Chiefland defenders on his way to the end zone.

First-year Trenton head coach Lyle Wilkerson said his team needs to learn to finish better when it has a lead.

“Hats off to Adam (Gore), they didn’t quit and they played their butts off,” he said. “We just had to quit doing stupid things. We turned it over two times in a row, bobbled the punt – he thought he was too close, so he tried to fake it and we give them the ball again on a short field.

“I was pleased with them gathering themselves, and we did finish at the end. They bowed their neck and went down and scored.”

After the Trenton defense forced a subsequent three-and-out, the Tiger offense chewed up five minutes of clock in driving the ball down to the CMHS 11, where it turned it over on downs.

“That was nice to see the stop there,” Gore said, “knowing where we were at on the clock, knowing where we were at on the field, but they were still gritting their teeth and playing football.”

Chiefland took over with 2:10 remaining, needing a couple of touchdowns, before confusion on a play call led to a safety, securing TMHS’ eighth-straight win in the series.

The Indians were out-gained 410 to 150, but were kept alive with five big plays, including a trio of passes for 23 or more yards, something that eluded the team most of last season.

Williams, who is in his first year in pads, hauled in a pair of those catches for 58 yards. He also had a diving reception against Bell in the preseason.

“He’s never played before in his life,” said Gore, who was pausing to remind each player how proud he was of them as they headed to the locker room. “I saw him run in the gym last year and thought, ‘I want to get that kid on the football field.’ As far as 50-50 balls, he’s just really good at positioning his body – he’s a basketball kid – and going and getting it.

“The returning guys were really the ones who sold our program (to newcomers like Williams). I’m the parent, they’re not going to listen to the dad.”

Chiefland fumbled the ball away on four of its first five drives, while Trenton answered with touchdowns on four straight possessions.

“The quarterback’s funny bone had been hit pretty bad and he was trying to get feeling back in his hand, and they applied some pressure on our center,” Gore said of the quarterback-center exchange troubles. “That’s just kind of the growth process.”

TMHS senior Jayce Gentry (4 for 8, 61 yards) tossed a pair of touchdown passes, taking some advantage of Chiefland’s inexperienced corners, while Eric Henry (17 rushes, 151 yards, TD), Baber (15 rushes, 62 yards, TD) and Fuller (16 rushes, 115 yards, TD) each added rushing scores.

Hammond finished 3 for 9 for 72 yards with a rushing and passing touchdown. Norris paced the CMHS rushing attack with 43 yards on 11 carries.

“Scheme-wise, we’re probably a little bit further along than what I want to give us credit for up front,” Gore said. “I was going to try perimeter them a little early and not go at them, but I said, ‘Let’s run at them.’ That’s when we started having some success, stopped playing behind the chains.”

Though Trenton was the more experienced and senior-heavy of the two teams, Chiefland was more composed for long stretches, as the Tigers more than doubled the Indians penalties and penalty yards (12 for 140 versus six for 60).

“We held it together, and I’m really proud of that,” Gore said, “because we’ve got some salty kids whom that’s really hard for, some of the younger ones. I’m proud of the way we made it about us instead of the individual.”

Despite the loss, Gore couldn’t help but be proud of his team after the week it had, with players getting sick at practice. Gore, himself, missed multiple days of school between him and his daughter getting sick.

“That’s not an excuse, it just makes me that much more proud of who they are, that they gave all they had, knowing how they were feeling,” Gore said. “They played for the school; they played for each other; they played for the community; they played for us.

“I’ll lay my head down tonight knowing we fought,’ he added. “I’m never satisfied with just competing, so I don’t want that to come across the wrong way. But the way they fought, I can live with that.

“We made some mistakes, but we made some plays too.”

Wilkerson said he thinks Chiefland is on the right path, as the team reminds him of when Trenton was beginning to turn a corner back in 2009.

“The biggest thing is he has them believing,” Wilkerson said of Gore. “The biggest thing is the mentality with these kids, and our kids have got it, and Adam’s going to get it down here, and it showed in the second and third quarter. They’re going to win some football games, they’re going to be all right.

“I love Adam to death – we’re cousins, we love each other. It’s tough, it ain’t as tough as facing my brother (former longtime Dixie County head coach Brent Wilkerson) in Dixie, but it’s tough playing people you love and care about.”