On Friday, Etowah took a step in reverse, losing to Pope 20-17 in overtime at the Pope Multi-Sport Complex.
“We played hard,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “I think our effort was good, but our execution wasn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be if we are going to win football games. And we’re just going to have to get better.”
After trailing 14-7 with fewer than 3 minutes to play, Etowah (1-2) had the ball at Pope’s 35-yard line following a defensive stand and a 14-yard punt return by Ben Rowell.
After failing to score throughout the rest of the second half, Etowah converted consecutive first downs on passing plays from backup quarterback Robbie Knox to wide receiver John Oliver and running back Stanlee Logue that gave the Eagles first-and-goal from the Pope 9.
Two plays later, Knox rolled to his right and threw the ball to tight end Bryce Coroi in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. After the extra point was converted, Etowah had the game tied at 14-all.
In overtime, the lack of execution that haunted the Eagles throughout the game was their downfall once more.
Etowah had the ball first at Pope’s 15 to start the overtime period. On the first play, Knox hit Oliver in the hands with a slant pass, but Oliver dropped what would have been a likely touchdown. On the next play, Brandon Engle rushed 6 yards to the right.
On third-and-4, Engle was only able to pick up 2, forcing the Eagles into a fourth-and-2 situation. After taking a delay-of-game penalty, Ryan Hopper hit a 29-yard field goal — his first after two earlier misses — to give the Eagles their first lead of the game at 17-14.
Etowah’s inability to get in the end zone on its first possession of overtime underscored the team’s overall struggles on third down throughout the game.
“I’m not a big believer that it comes down to heart or who wants it more,” Svehla said. “That’s a bunch of garbage. People that tell you that are just people have never played sports. It comes down to fundamentals. It comes down to taking the correct step. It comes down to having your hands placed where they are supposed to be placed. It comes down to hitting the correct holes at running back, lowering your shoulder and running forward. It comes to the little things, and, if you don’t do those things, then you’re going to get beat.”
As Pope (1-2) began its overtime possession, it was able to get the little things accomplished. For the game, the Greyhounds only finished with 126 yards, but in the overtime period, they only needed 15 to end the game.
After picking up a first down following a pass play from Stephen Skruck to Logan Carr that put the ball at the Etowah 5, Pope’s Ronald Woods carried the ball to 1, gaining the first down. Etowah’s defense stiffened up, however, stopping the Greyhounds twice.
But Pope elected to go for the win from inside Etowah’s 1-yard line, rather than bid to extend the game by kicking a field goal. The gamble paid off, as Skruck ran a quarterback sneak and pushed into the end zone.
The Eagles’ offense struggled to convert key third downs and points on the scoreboard Friday, due partly to the loss of starting quarterback Reeves Johnson.
Near the end of the first quarter, on third-and-long, Johnson scrambled to his right out of the pocket and was tackled short of the first down. After the play, he needed assistance to get off the field and limped off favoring his left leg.
While the loss of Johnson may have hindered the Eagles’ offense, Svehla didn’t want to use it as a reason for why Etowah eventually lost the game.
“Sure, it’s critical,” he said. “That’s our starting quarterback. But what are you going to do? Your kids have practiced all week to win, and you’ve got a backup quarterback. You bring him in, and the rest of the team has to play well. It’s not all on him.”