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By BRIAN LANGLEY
Morgan County News
ONEIDA-For over sixteen minutes, Sunbright battled the state's #4-ranked team tooth-and-nail. Oneida then pulled away from their 7-0 lead and cruised to a 49-0 victory over the Tigers on senior night.
The Indians (9-0, 5-0 in Region 2-A) used another dominating defensive performance to stay unbeaten. They held Sunbright to negative 54 yards on the ground, forced three turnovers and notched their third shutout of the season.
Sunbright played tough hard-nosed football for almost a quarter and a half before Oneida's depth and talent wore them down. It was only the second game for newly appointed SHS head coach Scott Stephens, who was proud of his team's effort.
"We have put a good opening half together both games. Its a learning process and they are still learning. I expect them to know things they really don't know at this point. That will come as we get more practice time every week," said Stephens.
Stephens says his team will got back to work on tackling, which he believes was a big downfall for his team against Oneida.
"I think we counted five touchdowns tonight on the ground, which is 35 points, where we made plays in the backfield or in the hole and missed tackles and they broke loose. We're going to have to go back and do more tackling drills and we're going to have to get better at wrapping up. One thing I have noticed is we hit way too high and we try to wrap up around the shoulder pads. Big strong kids like Oneida's got, you just can't tackle kids like that up high," offered Stephens.
Sunbright's Justin Huseman almost returned the kickoff back to the house, but he was caught after a 44-yard return at the Oneida 47. The Tigers couldn't move the chains and a high snap on a punt attempt gave the Indians the ball at Sunbright's 25.
Two out of the first three Oneida plays went backwards with Sunbright's Nick Henes and Huseman stopping Braxton Hutson five yards behind the line and Henes and Xavier Santiago sacking Torrey Slaven for ten yards to force a 4th-and-14. Oneida's Slaven then hit Willie Woodard for 29-yard touchdown strike. Jarrett Lay added the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 8:48 left in the opening quarter.
"The first touchdown we give up was on about a 4th and 18. They got one free right at the goal line and he made a good catch," said Stephens.
The two teams kept battling back and forth through a defensive struggle before Oneida finally put together a three-play, 37-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter with Jonathan Lewallen scoring on a 25-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
Sunbright's second turnover of the game set up Oneida's next score with Lewallen capping a three-play, 8-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead.
"What broke our back on defense is we put ourself in a bad spot on offense a couple of times. We gave Oneida a short field and that really hurt us," said Stephens.
Oneida's Hutson then finished off the first half scoring with a 58-yard punt return for six and a 27-0 half-time lead.
The Indians were productive on offense in the second half scoring on all three of their opening drives. Sam Woodard scored on a four-yard run, while Tyler Blevins added scoring runs of 46 and 17 yards to help push Oneida's final margin of victory to 49-0. Oneida's 222-yard offensive output was led by the rushing trio of Tyler Blevins (3-64, 2 TD), Jonathan Lewallen (10-55, 2 TD) and Sam Woodard (5-46, 1 TD). Torrey Slaven (2-4 for 38 yards, 1 TD passing) had a solid night through the air. Willie Woodard (1-29, 1 TD) was the star receiver for the Indians.
Sunbright's 75-yard offensive effort was led by the 1-2 passing punch of Garrett Starkey (9-13 for 69 yards) and Justin Huseman (6-13 for 60 yards, 2 INT). Starkey (5-55), William Carroll (4-43) and Nick Henes (6-31) led the team in receiving. Henes (4-15) led the ground game. Huseman added 68 yards on 3 kick returns, while Starkey returned 3 kicks for 46 yards.
"We made some bad decisions. We missed two or three long balls that were just inches away. The thingabout it is we were playing against an undefeated top five team in the state on their turf and they came out and were not going to let us get behind them. We made a lot of good plays with short stuff tonight and we put ourselves in position to make first downs on third down. We would then have something bad go wrong like we would miss a block, miss a handoff or miss a read and then put ourself in a bad position. You can't come somewhere like this against a good team like this and make that many mistakes and even have a chance to be in the game," said Stephens.
The Tigers were paced on defense by Brandon Welch (6 tackles, 4 behind the line, 2 sacks), Isaac Huling (6 tackles, 2 behind the line), Xavier Santiago (5 tackles, 2 behind the line, 2 sacks), Garrett Starkey (5 tackles), Jacob Webb (4 stops, 1 behind the line) and Josh Mason (4 tackles). Nick Henes (2 tackles behind the line, 1 sack), Justin Huseman (1 stop in the backfield) and Ethan Davis each added 3 tackles.
"We totally revamped the defense this week. That was a brand new defense and the kids played it exceptionally well. Oneida made some great adjustments at half-time and hurt us in some spots. Brandon Welch is playing that tackle spot for me. We moved him out there because he is quicker than a cat and he is good and strong and he is not going to get manhandled out there and he was in position all night to make plays and most of the time he did," said Stephens.
Longtime defensive guru Lee Coleman, who Stephens elevated to his long-time position as defensive coordinator, praised the play of his defense.
"We were in position on a lot of plays. We missed a few tackles and you can't miss tackles against a good team. We put in a new scheme this week. We wore down. The kids played hard and they executed the scheme well," said Coleman.
Sunbright (3-5, 0-4 in Region 2-A) entertains Oakdale (2-6, 0-4 in Region 2-A) this Friday night in a Morgan County battle. It is homecoming for the Tigers.
"We got a lot of work to do before then (Oakdale). These kids are going to come out and play hard. I'm sure Oakdale is coming in with the same attitude we are. This is a game we want, we need and we're going to try and do everything in our power to get it," Stephens added.