WILL POLLARD sprints to the end zone for the first of two two-point conversions in Friday night's season opener. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
September 09, 2013NORTH CONWAY — Nobody could blame Kennett football coach for panicking a bit in the second half of his team's opener against Hollis-Brookline on Friday, Sept. 6.
Already without top running back Christian Rivers and fellow senior back Tommy Donovan, the Eagle coach saw his top wing back, Drew Mcdonald, leave Millen Stadium on a stretcher after an injury.
"To be honest, we went into panic mode because we didn't have a backup A back," Holderman said.
So, the Eagle coach turned to a familiar face, though one that was brand new to the position.
Quarterback Nick Graziano, who was engaged in a back-and-forth battle right up to game time with Will Pollard to get the start under center, was inserted as the wing back in Mcdonald's place.
"He did an awesome job," Holderman said. "He really stepped up."
Graziano made a huge grab on a 26-yard pass from Pollard to set up the winning touchdown as the Eagles pulled off a 16-14 win over the Cavaliers on opening night.
Things started out fairly well for the Eagles on defense, as Nate Arnold recovered a fumble on the third play from scrimmage, giving the Eagles the ball right out of the gate.
However, the offense sputtered and turned the ball right back. The defense again stepped up and Theo Scarlett, Grant Meserve and Arnold all turned in good defensive plays to help the Eagles get the ball back.
After a 15-yard scamper by Pollard on first down, the Eagles couldn't get any further and punted away. Great coverage by Nate Emerson pinned Hollis-Brookline back at their 10-yard line. They were able to bring it out past the 20, but a Nick Sherwood stop forced the Cavaliers to punt away.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, the Cavaliers stepped in front of a Pollard pass and took it 40 yards to the end zone. The Eagles were able to block the extra point with just 44 seconds to go in the quarter, but still trailed 6-0.
The Eagles didn't get down, however, as their next drive reached the end zone.
A pass to Emerson gained five yards and Pollard ran for 14 on second down to give the Eagles the ball at midfield to start the second quarter. On third and 14, Pollard found Mcdonald for a 14-yard gain for first down and two plays later, Pollard found Meserve, who broke through the defense for a 40-yard touchdown catch and run with 10:39 to play.
The play had special meaning to everyone on the Kennett sideline, as the Eagles have dedicated this season to Meserve's father, Ian, who was an assistant coach over the last few years. The elder Meserve passed away earlier this year after a battle with cancer.
"He's been fighting the drops (in the preseason)," Holderman said of Meserve. "But he didn't drop that one. That was a great way to start."
Pollard then gave the Eagles the lead by running in the two-point conversion for an 8-6 lead.
The Eagle defense forced a three and out, but the Eagle offense wasn't able to get much going after a pass to Ryan Stevens gave them a first down and they also punted.
Hollis-Brookline completed a 54-yard pass to put them at the 10-yard line, but again the Kennett defense stepped up. After a fumble on the snap made it first and goal at the 15, Adam Hutchings stuffed a run in the backfield and Mcdonald and Arnold provided coverage on the fourth down pass, giving the Eagles the ball back.
A Pollard run on third down moved the Eagles out to the 35, but an interception on a deflection put the ball right back in the visitors' hands.
Graziano made sure that didn't last long, as he stepped in front of a pass on the first play of the next drive and got the Eagles the ball back. After a pass to Meserve and a run by Arnold, Pollard carried on fourth and inches for first down, but the Eagles couldn't get much further and the half drew to a close with the Eagles up 8-6.
The first Eagle drive of the second half ended in a disaster, as the Cavaliers blocked the punt and took over on the 25-yard line. Just two plays later, the visitors were in the end zone. After the two-point conversion, Hollis-Brookline took the 14-8 lead with 9:22 to go in the third quarter.
Pollard and Arnold had carries and Stevens and Graziano had catches on the next drive, but the Eagles were stopped on fourth and four. However, the defense held strong and forced the Cavaliers to punt, with Emerson returning the ball to the 41-yard line.
Graziano then caught a third down pass at the 27 and then made a fantastic leaping catch on the next play, coming down on the one-yard line. From there, Arnold barreled into the end zone for the touchdown. Pollard again carried in for the two-point conversion, giving the Eagles the 16-14 lead with 1:58 to go in the third quarter.
And from there, the Eagle defense took over. They forced a three and out on the next two possessions early in the fourth quarter and then forced a turnover on downs on the third drive, that coming with 3:05 to play in the game. However, the offense was unable to pick up a first down and the Eagles were forced to punt. The Cavaliers got a good return to the 40 yard line with 1:57 to go.
Hutchings broke up the first pass, but the second pass moved the Cavaliers to the 28-yard line. A penalty backed them up and a sack from Sherwood backed them up more and the Cavaliers weren't able to recover, giving the Eagles the opening night win.
"That's the story of what we want this year," Holderman said of his team's defensive effort. "They came to play. This is what we've been working for. They came out tonight ready to go."
He noted that across the board, people stepped up, filling in where needed.
"Everybody stepped up and filled roles," Holderman said. "They knew what they had to do."
The win sends the Eagles into week two, when they will travel to Dover to take on St. Thomas. The Saints edged out a 12-7 win over the Eagles in last year's season opener.
"We just let it slip away. We've been waiting for that one again," Holderman said. "We're going to be ready to go."
The Eagles will be at St. Thomas at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com.