“Friday Night Lights” may soon become a bit brighter in Orange County if this past Friday evening was any indication of things to come for the 2013 version of Hornet football.
Down by a pair of touchdowns early to the visiting Madison Mountaineers, Orange rallied for 27 consecutive points to claim a 34-21 victory in a benefit game for both squads.
According to first-year Orange Head Coach Keita Malloy, “I told them even before the season started that we need to be able to overcome adversity. I think they got the message in the second half by coming out and making some plays and changing the momentum. We have a long ways to go yet but I was proud to see them hang in there and overcome that adversity.”
A 29-yard pass play from Mountaineer junior signal caller James Graves to senior wide-out Lawrence Weakley at the 8:39 mark of the first quarter put Madison on top 7-0 after Dylan Berry’s extra point. Graves’ evening effort accounted for 184 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses on 15 of 30 pass attempts.
The Madison early advantage was short-lived (11 seconds) as Hornet sophomore Keith Ellis took the ensuing kickoff and sprinted 75 yards down the visitor sideline to knot the score at 7-7 after Kristopher Hooper’s kick with 8:28 on the scoreboard clock.
Capitalizing on an errant Hornet kickoff that sailed out of bounds placing the ball on their own 35-yard line, Madison used an 11-play drive to once again thwart the Hornet defense. A 10-yard scamper over the middle of the Orange defensive front from senior running back Randall Byers resulted in the visitors again taking the lead. Berry’s extra point boot gave Madison a 14-7 edge with 4:13 remaining in quarter.
The Mountaineers once again profited from an Orange miscue as a muffed fair catch attempt of a Madison punt resulted in Graves’ second scoring strike of the contest with 8:12 remaining before halftime. A 19-yard fling to senior tight end Samuel Taylor, rounded out by another Berry extra point, pushed Madison in front 21-7.
“We made a lot of mistakes early,” said Malloy. “We committed a lot of penalties and turned the ball over too much. We didn’t play the brand of football tonight that I thought we could play and I’m sure the nerves had a little bit to do with it, but we need to overcome these things to get where we want to be.”
Perhaps appeasing their coaches just a bit before halftime, the Hornet defense prompted a gaffe from Madison as Ellis recovered a fumble and returned it to his 37 yard line. From there Orange drove 63 yards, capped by senior running back Damian Clark’s two-yard plunge into the end zone with 57 ticks left on the clock. Hooper’s extra point brought the home team to within a touchdown at 21-14 before halftime.
Continuing to live on the edge after the break, Orange once again turned the pigskin over to their visitors following a delay of game penalty as the Mountaineers intercepted at their own 35-yard line. Driving once more to just shy of midfield, Madison’s fortunes would take a turn downward as sophomore linebacker Devin Riordan stepped in front of a Graves pass and darted 55 yards to tie the game at 21 points apiece after Hooper’s kick, with 10:05 to go in the third quarter.
“Our special teams and our defense played very well tonight. We made some adjustments after halftime, played aggressively and kind of slowed their passing game down, but we need to get some things done on offense. We have to be able to move the ball and sustain some drives. If you give a good team like that opportunities, you’re going to dig yourself a hole and we were fortunate enough to climb our way out of it,” said Malloy.
After a series of alternating punts, Orange took possession at its own 32-yard line. Receiving the handoff, senior running back Mikael Wallace squeaked his way to the left sideline and then sprinted 68 yards into the Mountaineer end zone, giving his squad its first lead of the evening. Hooper’s fourth extra point of the game pushed the Hornets ahead 28-21 at the 3:20 mark of the third. For the contest, Wallace banged and charged his way to 120 yards on 12 carries for a whopping 10-yards per carry average.
As less than a minute elapsed, the Hornets once again were rewarded when Ellis picked off an errant throw from Mountaineer signal caller Graves and bolted 70 yards for Orange’s and the game’s final points. Failing for the first time on the night, Hooper missed his extra point attempt as the Hornets now led 34-21 as 2:36 remained on the third quarter clock.
A relatively uneventful final quarter gave way to a belated birthday present for Orange Head Coach Keita Malloy’s debut as the Hornets head coach—albeit a benefit exhibition contest.
“As someone once said, ‘you can’t turn a big boat fast,’ ” coach Malloy explained. “Even though I’m trying to turn it fast, it’s going to take some time. The kids have been responsive. We’re just going to have to keep working and get better. Hopefully this game settled us down and woke us up a little. There are more good teams coming and we need to be ready,” said Malloy.
That next “good” team will be Liberty of Bealeton this Friday, Sept. 7 as the Eagles visit Paul M. Sizemore Football Field at Porterfield Park for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.