OMINOUS OPENERS

‘Improved’ Pirates show solid promise

LITTLE ROCK—Seeing good things in practice is one thing. Under the lights on Friday night, though, those good things need to transfer to the playing field. For the senior-laden Drew Central Pirates, the first game of the 2017 season had to sting a little bit more than any game last year.
Opening against 1-9 Episcopal Collegiate, second-year head coach Rob Cox looked to right the ship coming off an 0-10 season a year ago. The Pirates were able to demonstrate several things throughout the contest, despite coming up short 42-28, but Cox said after the game last weekend’s game showed two key things:
• This is not the same team as last year and
• Improvements were evident.
“We’ve got some things to work on,” Cox said to his team after Friday’s contest. “We cannot run out of gas. There were some things that went the other team’s way that could have went ours as well, but that is just how the chips fell tonight.
“I saw a lot of great things. I saw we responded well and I know we are going to build on this. They have a good football club. They have some athletes. We got to go back to work next week.”
Episcopal won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half of play but neither team was able to get too much going on their opening possessions. The hosts took the first lead of the game at 4:51 of the first quarter after Phillip Bryant connected with R.J. Rice from 22 yards away. A failed extra-point attempt left DC down 6-0.
Drew Central answered the score 31 seconds later at the 4:20 mark as senior Montiel Daniels broke free for a 41-yard touchdown run. Classmate Kobi James ran in the two-point conversion to give the Pirates an 8-6 lead after 12 minutes.
The second quarter was all Wildcats, though. Episcopal regained the lead and extended the advantage to two scores.
The first score came early in the second quarter at the 11:18 mark after a three-yard scamper by Bryant. The Wildcats added the two-point conversion to lead 14-8. The second score came with 6:33 remaining in the half when Bryant connected with Che Smith for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Will Bateman added the extra point for the 21-8 lead.
Drew Central was forced to punt on their next possession but with 44 seconds remaining in the half, the Pirates’ Stevon Hall, one of the sophomores Cox said before the season he could contribute heavily, intercepted a Bryant pass and took it back 40 yards for a DC touchdown. A failed conversion left Episcopal leading 21-14 at the half.
After intermission, Episcopal drove the field in their opening possession of the third quarter but seemed to be stopped. Unfortuntely for Drew Central, Ty Lazzari recovered a fumble in the end zone for the next Wildcat score. Bateman connected on the extra point to increase the lead to 28-14.
Drew Central showed its quick-strike ability after that score, though. Daniels returned the Wildcat kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. The Pirates converted the two-point conversion to draw within six points at 28-22.
EC had the answer for that, though. The Wildcats’ Dillon Nichols ran in from 10 yards out with 7:09 left in the third quarter and, after Bateman added the extra point, the Drew Central deficit was 13 points, 35-22.
The hosts then took advantage of one of the few mistakes the Pirates made offensively to effectively put the game away with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter. EC’s Bryant picked off an Ansin Lattimore pass and the Wildcats increased their lead to 42-22 with 11:16 remaining in the game on a one-yard touchdown run by Rice.
Drew Central turned the ball over on downs late in the final quarter but regained possession with 32 seconds left in the game after junior Cairo Graham stripped a Wildcat receiver. With time expiring, Lattimore—one of 15 upperclassman Cox has built his 2017 squad around—connected with sophomore Travarus Shead on a 55-yard touchdown pass as time expired to make the final 42-28.
Addressing his team after the game, Cox did not waste much time expressing his feelings on his team and the game. Then he turned to Friday, a more-than-legimitate chance to end what has become now a 17-game losing streak for the school.
“We got Woodlawn (which lost 30-6 to Westside Consolidated on Jonesboro last weekend) to look forward to next week,” Cox continued his postgame speech in Little Rock. “It is on our turf. It’s our first home game of the year, and it’s going to be a big one for us. I want to beat them pretty bad, so we have to come to work, stay hungry and be ready to go.
“Come to work everyday. This was a good game tonight. We played a good game—do not put your heads down. We had a few mistakes here and there but we are going to fix them. Overall, I think we played a pretty good game.”
League-wide, Drew Central was only of only three teams in Class 3A, District 6 to not begin the season with a victory. McGehee and Smackover got the year started with wins early last week.
The Owls, DC’s arch-rival, made the biggest opening statement with a 56-0 blowout of Baptist Preparatory School in the Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium last Thurday, while the Buckaroos held off Camden Harmony Grove 14-6 on Monday, Aug. 28 in the 2017 Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Kickoff Classic, presented by hootens.com, at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
Fouke (40-34 over Mineral Springs), Junction City (50-26 over Bearden) and Lake Village Lakeside (40-0 over Hermitage) joined McGehee and Smackover in posting wins from 6-3A. Fordyce, picked by Hooten’s Arkansas Football Magazine to win the conference, dropped its rivalry game to Rison 23-6 and Genoa Central fell 42-14 to Foreman in other action.
Friday’s Drew Central-Woodlawn game at Mike Pennington Stadium will kick off at 7 p.m.

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