BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
South Greene High School may be classified in the state's smallest athletic division now (Class A), but they stood toe-to-toe with a much larger school, Class AAA Sullivan Central, before falling 28-18 Thursday night before a standing room only crowd on Rebel Hill.
The Rebels, after struggling through a 1-9 campaign on the gridiron a year ago, gave the large following of home supporters much hope for the 2013 season as they led the Cougars at halftime before running out of gas in the second half as Central's run-oriented "wing T" offense took command.
"Their coach told me after the game that I ought to be proud of our boys because we kicked their butts," Coach Shawn Jones said in the locker room after the game, which kicked off the 2013 prep season. "I am proud. But I'm also disappointed because I honestly think we let one get away that we could have won."
Senior quarterback Hunter Waddell got a lot out of South Greene's "pistol" offense, hitting 11-of-21 passes for 199 yds. and two touchdowns. Senior tailback Preston Shuffler rushed for 102 yds. as the Rebs netted 334 yds. of offense.
But they couldn't stop the Cougars' runners in the second half. Senior Matt Kinkead rushed for 168 yds., big fullback Ethan Krtausch added 99 yds., and Central, who plays in District 1-AAA alongside the likes of Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill, finished with 361 yds. of offense, 343 of those yards on the ground.
"I think we should have scored four times in the first half," Jones said. "We got the lead, but when we faced some adversity there in the third quarter, you could see the wind go out of our sails. We've got to learn to believe in ourselves. We seemed to run out of gas. Maybe we're not in game shape yet. But we'll get there."
Central struck first in the game, scoring on their second possession by moving 50 yds. in six plays. Kinkead scored on a 2-yd. run with 6:42 left in the first quarter, and Jordan Edwards would be true on the first of four extra points on the night.
But the Rebels charged right back, also on their second possession. Shuffler got the touchdown on a 29-yd. pass play from Waddell on a fourth down play. He took the "bubble screen" pass and broke free on the sideline, obviously fooling the Cougars with his speed. But the Rebs failed to tie the score when Austin Cedillo's point-after attempt sailed wide right with 3:10 left in the quarter.
Manny Alcantara and Shuffler stuffed the Cougars run on the next possession and forced a punt. Starting at Central's 43, the Rebs took seven plays to score and take the lead. Shuffler bolted around end for 22 yds. for a big play, and he later got the touchdown on a 10-yd. sprint up the middle of the Cougar defense. The Rebs went for the two-point conversion, but Waddell's pass fell incomplete and the Rebs had to settle for 12-7 lead.
South Greene then missed a golden chance to pad the lead when Waddell intercepted a Trey Pope pass on first down after the ensuing kickoff. Three running plays failed to net a first down and the Rebs punted it away.
They had another chance later in the period. Waddell's long bomb to Tim Lightfoot was a tad long and just off his fingertips. A Central 15-yd.
"horse collar" penalty after a screen pass from Waddell to Shuffler also helped, but the Rebs couldn't move it on to the red zone.
Central got down to the SG 32 before turning it over on downs later in the half, and the two teams went to enjoy some air conditioning in the locker room with the Rebs up 12-7.
South Greene took the second half kickoff and moved from their own 25 to the Central 22 before giving it up on downs. Waddell hit Justin Casteel for 30 yds. in the drive, then passed 13 to Alcantara.
Central took over at the 22 and marched 78-yds. in 13 plays. Facing fourth and eight from the SG 20, Kinkead took the pitch around right end to score the touchdown and the PAT lifted the visitors to a 14-12 lead.
Shuffler had a 36-yd. run after the kickoff, but a holding penalty and a quarterback sack caused that drive to fizzle as the fourth quarter began.
The Cougars struck quickly this time as the SG defense began to fade on the hot, muggy night. Kinkead had runs of 18 and 17 in the march, and Tommy Havyre scored a TD on a 10-yd. run. Central suddenly was in control at 21-12 after the PAT with 9:49 left on the clock.
The Rebels ran four plays and punted, and they got another chance when Central muffed Lucas Riddle's punt. But the Cougars managed to cover the ball despite two Rebs within grabbing distance.
Central then moved to score again, marching 56 yds. in 10 plays with Ethan Krtausch scoring on a 3-yd. barge. The PAT raised the scored to 28-12 with only 2:01 left.
But South Greene still showed some fight and they connected on a big play after the kickoff. Waddell found Lightfoot on a 64-yd. pass-run play. Lightfoot broke past a front wall of defenders, then left the rest of the pack in the dust on his way to pay dirt. Again, a conversion pass was incomplete and the score stood at 28-18.
The Rebs had one more chance. They went with a successful onside kick, recovering it from a scrum at midfield. Waddell passed 18 yds. to Casteel, but that would be all they would get as they were working against the clock.
"Central did a good job with their 'wing T' offense, and we'll see another good 'wing T' next week against Chuckey-Doak," Jones said. "We've got to do a better job defending. We'll get back to work."
The Rebels play at county rival Chuckey-Doak next Thursday.