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By Jake Kreulen, sports writer
FRANKLIN – The Coffee County Central High School Red Raiders got knocked down early and often Friday night as they opened their season with a 52-28 loss at Battle Ground Academy. But they got back up every time.
“The first half was a terrible half of football,” said first year Raider coach Ryan Sulkowski. “The execution wasn’t there and we turned the ball over. BGA has a good football team, but everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the first half.”
Battle Ground was able to get the CHS defense off balance from the start, running a flea-flicker on the first play of the game while marching down the field and scoring through the air twice in the first seven minutes of play.
“They were able to take advantage of some things and make some big plays,” Sulkowski said. “
Cody Howes took the second BGA kickoff and raced 87 yards for a score to cut the lead to 14-7, but that was as close as CHS would get the rest of the way as the Wildcats scored the next 21 points to take a 35-7 lead at the break.
CHS opened the second half with a strong drive, moving the ball 54 yards before freshman quarterback Alontae Taylor found Howes with a short pass on fourth down that turned into a 32-yard strike after Howes split two defenders. Taylor accounted for all but four yards on the 86-yard drive, with 50 of them coming on four carries.
The Raiders forced a three-and-out on the ensuing BGA possession, and a snap over the punter’s head gave the Raiders the ball at the Wildcat 2. Two plays later, Mill Harner trimmed the lead to 35-21.
Battle Ground put up two more touchdowns to put the game out of reach and got a first down at the CHS 10 on their next possession, but the Raider defense stiffened and held the Wildcats to a field goal.
“The defense really bowed their backs and made a good stand to force a field goal,” Sulkowski said. “They could have given up, but to stop a team that was definitely trying to score after giving them a first-and-goal situation speaks highly of our guys.”
The Raiders managed a final scoring drive of 78 yards as Harner rushed for 50 yards on four carries, included one for 18 yards on fourth-and-2. Howes finished off the drive with his third touchdown of the night on a five-yard run with 8 seconds left in regulation.
“We took them in at the half and made a couple of adjustments, but it’s really about the psyche,” said Sulkowski. “We’re not happy with the outcome, but we found two positives. One was holding them to that field goal, which is going to make a difference in a close game, and the other is that we drove down the field and scored to end the game.
“We’re young and we’re going to grow up. All-in-all, I can’t complain one bit about the effort, and that’s the bottom line.”
The Raiders face another tough test Friday as they host Rhea County. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
For complete game coverage, pick up a copy of this week’s Manchester Times.