Holtville’s defense stood firm, but with minimal offensive production to complement, it couldn’t keep running back Elisha McNeil and the Central of Clay County offense off the scoreboard forever.
The Volunteers beat the Bulldogs 36-0 in a game that was quite a bit more defensive than the score would indicate.
“We gave them some short fields, and when you give up short fields against a good football team, it’s tough to overcome,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “We’d give them the ball on the 35-yard-line, and I mean, they’re big and physical. And we knew that coming in. We knew we had to play our best ball game tonight.”
What yardage Holtville’s offense did pick up came primarily from running back Shawn Brackett and wide receiver John Williamson, who connected with quarterback Tanner Potts for two of the longest plays for the Bulldogs Friday, the furthest of which was a slant route that went for 37 yards.
“We’ve got to challenge our guys to come out prepared and focused and play harder than we played tonight,” Franklin said. “I thought we played extremely hard at times in the first half, but we’ve gotta play much harder in the second half. But we’ve gotta play harder on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s on me.”
There’s few better indicators of a defensive game than three-and-outs. There was no shortage of three-and-outs at Volunteer stadium Friday.
In the first half alone, Holtville went either three-and-out or four-and-out five times, taking four offensive series to pick up its first first down of the game.
Clay joined them in this endeavor, going three-and-out on four first half possessions of its own.
“We’ve just got to not let one bad play get in our head,” Franklin said. “We’re still not there. We’ve got to take our game a little bit better to be able to play with a team like this. Elite teams, you’ve gotta play a little bit better than you did the last week, the week before that. I believe in our guys. I love our guys. I’m just proud of them regardless of what the scoreboard says.”
Holtville’s defense rendered Clay’s passing game virtually ineffective while the Volunteers struggled with consistency on the ground. The Bulldogs were hosting a true team effort on the ball-stopping side led by defensive back Dalton Yarroch, who intercepted a pass on Clay’s first drive, linebacker Mikey Forney, defensive end Cooper Mann and defensive end Kei Webb among many others.
Inconsistent is a carefully selected word for the Volunteers’ rushing attack, because what few creases McNeil did find went for big plays.
The speedster took a first-quarter toss to the left for a 43-yard gain before plunging in from two yards out to give Clay an initial 6-0 lead.
Several possessions later, the Volunteers unveiled a wishbone offense and converted a fourth-and-2 via a 13-yard run from McNeil before running back Ladamian Boyd polished off another touchdown drive with a nine-yard run. Clay booted through a 36-yard field goal before half’s end to make it a three-score game at the break, 17-0.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first half,” Franklin said. “We just didn’t help ourselves out. Just didn’t help ourselves out tonight.”
That margin could have been even worse given the short fields Holtville’s defense was dealing with. Clay started one possession at the Bulldogs’ 32-yard-line but the team posted one of its three-and-outs and the Volunteers punted the football on fourth-and-long.
It was all for naught. Holtville opened the second half with another three-and-out, Clay proceeded to matriculate the ball downfield in chunks and punch in another rushing touchdown to extend its lead to 24-0 with 7:22 to play in the third quarter.
The Volunteers suppressed any hopes of a comeback from there.
Holtville’s season continues at home against Tallassee Oct. 15.