What started as a close shootout turned into a second-half rout as the Eminence Warriors beat Caverna 56-20 in their season opener.
Quarterback Justin Mitchell picked up where he left off last year, racking up 197 yards passing on 8 completions.
“I thought it was really great for Justin to come back and play so well after the concern over his back,” said coach Steve Frommeyer. Mitchell missed the last few games of basketball season because of a broken bone in his back. He was in a back brace throughout the spring and was cleared for activity on July 15 — the opening day of football practice.
Mitchell and his receivers had a great game, but the real eye-opener was the Warriors ground game. Their 500 yards of total offense included 348 yards rushing. Shelby Armstrong led the attack with 197 yards on 11 carries.
“He had his best game that I can remember him ever having, both offensively and defensively,” Frommeyer said. “On defense we put him on their go-to receiver and locked him down. He played with a lot of determination.”
The game opened with Caverna taking possession and marching quickly downfield to score on an 11-yard run. The point-after-touchdown failed and the Colonels led 6-0.
The Colonels lead was short-lived as the Warriors took the ensuing kickoff and were in scoring position after one play.
Armstrong took the first handoff of the game and ripped off 33 yards. Sophomore Austin Perry, a first-year player, then gained 15 yards on the next play to get the ball to the eight-yard line. After a play for no gain, Armstrong carried the ball into the end zone to tie the score.
Mitchell hit a wide-open Hayden Hoofman in the end zone on the 2-point conversion to give the Warriors the 8-6 lead.
The Warriors held Caverna on the next series and forced them to punt it away. After a good punt return and penalty on Caverna, the Warriors started their second possession in Colonels’ territory and Mitchell wasted no time getting the Warriors on the scoreboard again.
He found Trevor Payton on a 16-yard pass down the right sideline. Payton made the over-the-shoulder catch at about the 15 yard-line and scampered into the end zone to make it 14-6.
The Warriors scored on their next possession after holding the Colonels scoreless in the red zone. Payton made a nice catch in the end zone on a 20-yard pass play to make the score 20-6 with 8:51 left in the half.
Caverna answered with an 87-yard kickoff return to the Warrior 3-yard line, and found the endzone on the next play to make it 20-12 with 8:30 left.
Perry would not be outdone in the kickoff return department and took the next kickoff and scampered 85 yards for another Warrior touchdown to make it 26-12 with 8:13 left in the half.
The Warriors defense came up big on Caverna’s next possession, recovering a fumble at midfield.
After the fumble recovery, Armstrong carried the ball 36 yards, giving the Warriors a 32-12 lead with 6:54 to play.
Caverna came back with another touchdown after converting on a fourth-and-3 situation. At halftime the Warriors led 32-20.
The Warriors defense stiffened in the second half and the Colonels failed to reach the end zone again while Eminence added 24 more points to make the game a blowout.
Frommeyer was pleased with the overall performance of his team.
“We made some adjustments defensively at halftime and changed some personnel and I think the kids just really settled into the game a little more and we had better tackling in the second half,” he said. “Our tackling tends to get better as the season progresses. It’s hard at small schools to match game situation tackling in practice. Offensively our execution was so much better than in our scrimmage.
“We had great balance between running and passing. We had a lot of kids involved in the offense. Clayton Rader and the rest of our offensive line blocked really well all night. They are the unsung heroes. Clayton had a great game on both sides of the ball.
“Jalen Dixie made an unbelievable play in the second half. He went up between two defenders and made the catch and then broke two tackles to get into the end zone. It was a great example of determination.
“I thought our young guys played really well, especially on the line. If they can continue to play like that it will give us more depth than we have been accustomed to. Luke Satterly, a freshman safety and Austin Perry a first year player as a sophomore really played well.”