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ECS shuts out Arlington

ECS WR Carson Gagnon lays out for the pass late in the 4th quarter

By Bill Sorrell

“Respond” is the theme word for the Evangelical Christian School school year and it has been embraced by the football team.

“We have tried to build our program around servant leadership and we lean on Mark 10:45, which is our scriptural basis for that,” said Head Coach Jonas Rodriguez. “With the word respond, we are trying to live in response to the gospel and response to what Jesus did for us on the cross in the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat others and serve our community.

“At our school, we strive to be Christ-centered and biblically directed that bleeds over into our football program,” he continued. “We believe if we have a culture of servant leadership among our football team, as well as in our school, it should be a positive experience.”

Mark 10:45 reads, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Rodriguez added, “We are not perfect. We are going to fall short but we are going to strive to respond in the right way.”

Respond is what the Eagles did against Arlington on Friday at ECS, blanking the Tigers 27-0.

From Peter Nearn blocking Conner Ford’s 37-yard field goal and Preston Daniel recovering it and racing for a touchdown in the first quarter, to Chandler Caughron’s career-high 44-yard field goal, his second field goal of the game, to Jacob Hatcher’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Williams, to Austin Hill intercepting a Rhodes Carson pass in the fourth quarter and returning it for a touchdown, the Eagles stifled the Tigers.

The Eagles (6-2) used their solid 3-4 defensive front to the max.

“Our defense played out of their minds. We shut out a very good offense. Our run defense was good all game and our coverage was incredible all game,” said Caughron, a senior who has committed to kick at Central Arkansas. “Our run defense is one of the top in the city and we are really resilient to anything.”

Nearn said, “Our box is insane. Everybody was stopping the run. They have a good running back. Our coaches put that game plan together.”

The Tigers (5-3) were held to 55 yards rushing. Carson completed 10 of 23 passes for 76 yards for a total offense of 131 yards. ECS, which had 184 yards total offense, rushed for 107 yards and had 77 yards passing from quarterback Jacob Hatcher.

Arlington was playing without one of the area’s most prolific runners in senior Kenny Walker. He injured his ankle in the first series. As he was getting tackled, the tackler rolled on it.

“We had to try to make different adjustments when it happened,” said Walker, who had a team-high 31 yards on 10 carries.

Arlington Head Coach Adam Sykes said, “He got hurt the first drive, which pretty much did him in for the game. We tried to play him and he couldn’t do it. You’ve got to be ready to go every time. It’s next man up. We are slim in the backfield right now. We are down to two guys on the depth chart that play running back.”

Mitchell Faulkner, a running back and linebacker for the Tigers, did not play because of an injury.

“When Kenny got injured we did lose some agility in the backfield but (Tyrese) Perry came in and did what he needed to,” said Carson. “This caused us to pass more than we have in past games.”

Defense and special teams won the game for ECS.

“We struggled moving the ball on offense. They did a nice job with their defensive scheme. We maintained possession of the ball and didn’t commit any big errors,” said Rodriguez, in his second year as head coach.

Nearn’s blocked field goal and Daniel’s scoop and score was a game-changer.

Taking the opening kickoff, Walker ran to his 32-yard line. After a 5-yard penalty on ECS, Carson ran 6 yards for a first down to the 43. Walker got a first down at the Eagles 44 and two plays later Carson ran to the 33. Carson’s 13-yard pass to Jorge Avalos put the Tigers on the 17. Walker ran to the 12 before Hill sacked Carson at the 21.

After the block, Daniel scored his second touchdown of the season, running 63 yards with 5:39 left in the first.

Nearn described the block as a “very good feeling. I felt like it changed the momentum of the game in our favor. They were driving on us.”

Caughron said, “That was a huge opening touchdown with that blocked field goal return. That was incredible. It took us a bit to get going but that shot us up. Once we got chemistry going it’s really hard to stop that.”

Said Carson, “It kind of killed all the hope we had going into it.”

Said Sykes, “That hurts your psychique. You drive the field on them and have a chance to put some points on the board first and they blocked a punt and they run it back for a touchdown. They are very disciplined. You have to be precise when you run your plays or it’s not going to work.

“We could never get in the rhythm offensively,” he continued. “Our defense played their tails off. That is what kept us in the game. We forced two first-half field goals and at halftime it was 13-0 and still a ball game.”

Caughron converting two field goals in the first half “was really big for us to continue to maintain some momentum.”

“The touchdown pass in the fourth quarter was big,” said Rodriguez, who was a running back, a defensive back and on special teams at Yale from 2000-2004. “The biggest thing was not to give them a short field, not to commit any egregious turnovers and play field position. Since football’s inception it’s about field position.”

One of 15 seniors recognized on Friday’s Senior Night, Caughron, whose PAT made it a 7-0, kicked a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter with 10:27 left.

In the drive, Wiliams, who led ECS receivers with 51 yards, caught a 13-yard pass from Hatcher and then Matthew McMeans, who started the season as a backup, rushed for a game-high 63 yards on 21 attempts, ran 13 yards to the Tigers 16. Williams ran to the 9 before Caughron kicked the field goal. The Eagles led 10-0. Williams is one of Shelby-Metro’s leading receivers.

Kaleb Henderson later stopped an Eagles drive with a fumble recovery at the Tigers 36. Hill recovered a Tiger fumble later at the Tigers 49.

A play that led to Caughron’s 44-yard field goal included a 26-yard pass from Hatcher to Carson Gagnon which got the Eagles to the Tigers 22. Three plays later Caughron made it a 13-0 lead with 1:04 left before half.

“Chandler is a weapon. He has a lot of range. He can hit it from 50-plus in field goals. He is a well-rounded kicker. That is why he is going to play at Central Arkansas,” said Rodriguez.

Caughron, who has kicked 60-yard field goals in practice, said that it all starts with the snap. Hill is long snapper.

“Austin had a fantastic game. He got the ball back to me. I had great protection. It is a real tribute to them,” he said.

Quarterback Joseph Welch is the holder.

“Our field goal operation with Austin and Jospeh, who has been holder for awhile, has been a huge impact. We have to win special teams. It’s a huge part.”

Training for more than years has been key in Caughron’s success. He has been trained by James Wilhoit in Nashville and Cory Acosta in Memphis.

Over the summer, Caughron had kicked at several colleges and chose UCA because of its “beautiful” campus, “great” education and proximity to Memphis.

Caughron’s PAT put the Eagles ahead 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Hatcher’s touchdown pass to Williams capped a 53-yard drive that began with Evan Lockhart recovering a fumble.

Facing fourth-and-four at the Tigers 46, Arlington was penalized for being offsides and ECS had a first down at the 41.

Three plays later, Hatcher threw the touchdown pass.

Penalties, 7 for 40 yards, plagued the Tigers. ECS had 5 for 35.

“We had some penalties that killed us. We have to lock in better,” said Sykes. “You can’t do that in crucial parts of the game. When it’s third and four, you can’t jump off sides. It’s mental things.”

Hill’s 35-yard touchdown interception came with 5:49 left.

Caughron’s extra point made it 27-0.

“Everybody played a really strong game,” said Caughron, who had 4 punts, averaging 36.5 yards. “All our defensive line played very well, continuing the shutout in the second half. Our corners (Nearn, Williams, Gagnon, Jacob Epperson) played very well.”

Rodriguez said, “Austin Hill has been really solid as the outside linebacker all year. Defense is about being a team. I feel like we have 11 guys who are playing well together. Offensively Dawson Williams made some big plays. Our quarterbacks (who run the pro-style multiple-formation offense) were solid. Matthew McMeans was patient and solid and kept possession of the ball. We were willing to fight through some adverse conditions. Both teams have been going through some of the same stuff, injuries and the wear and tear of the season. Matthew is a good back.”

Said Welch, “We all came out focused with a lot of energy. We had a good game plan going in to stop Kenny and (wide receiver) Devin Chandler.”

Avalos, a wide receiver and defensive back who had a 17-yard reception in the third quarter and a game-high 56 receiving yards on 4 catches, said that he hopes to make a run in the playoffs.

Said Walker, “We have a great group of guys that won’t put their heads down and are always wanting to get better. I know that our team will be ready to play next game (Oct. 19 at Cordova).”

Avalos, who said that running back/linebacker Dontavis Slaton played well, was pleased by the way the Tigers’ defense “stood our ground” giving up a lone offensive touchdown.

“We play great as a unit,” he noted.

Leading Tiger tacklers were Cannon Linebaugh with 5 with one for a loss, Roland Turner 4 (one for loss), Henderson 4 (one for loss), Dylan Keith 3, Jake Golday 3.

Jose Avalos added 2 tackles, Jerred Smith 2, Derrick Small 1, Slaton 1.

For ECS, which had 2 sacks for 17 yards, Ethan Saunders had 6 tackles, Lockhart 4, Epperson 3.5, Daniel 3 ( a sack and one tackle for a loss), Williams 3, Hill 3 including a sack and two tackles for a loss.

Will Arthur, Tyler Jiles (one for loss), Zachary Brooks had 2 tackles each, Nearn 1, Dietrick Pennington 1.5, Josh Hartstuff 1, Joshua Crowell 1.5.

“Everybody made plays,” said Nearn, adding that Williams, who rushed for 14 yards, made some “good plays, big plays.” Brooks rushed for 19 yards, Welch 7, Hill 4.

With some excellent punts, Ford had 6 for 187 yards, averaging 31.2. Chandler had a punt return for 14 yards. Walker had a kickoff return for 30 yards, Ethan Goode one for 20 and Jorge Avalos one for 6. Perry rushed for 24 yards on 9 carries, Jorge Avalos rushed for 4 on one carry.

Linebaugh had 2 receptions for 12 yards, Chandler 2 for 9, Smith 1 for 4.

ECS, which hosts Harding Academy on Oct. 19, avenged a 28-14 loss to the Tigers last season.

Rodriguez thought it would be a more high-scoring game.

“I think part of our struggle offensively, we had guys who were tired playing really hard on defense, doing a great job, and it had an effect on our offensive productivity.”

Welch, a senior, and Hatcher, a sophomore, have interchanged all season.

“They have encouraged each other. They have a really solid relationship. If something goes bad, they encourage and congratulate when things go well,” said Rodriguez.

The two-quarterback system is helped by an offensive line of Crowell, a right tackle and tight end, whom Rodriguez calls “steady” and center Josiah Tingley.

Guards and defensive linemen Jiles and Hartsuff “have done a fanstatic job.” Left tackle Pennington at 6-5, 305, is “starting to play like an upperclassman.”

Seniors Asher Morris (lineman) and Hudson Still (lineman) “have done a nice job when called upon.”

The Eagles’ run fits and coverage on defense have been effective. Epperson and Gagnon are starting safeties and “have done a great job of solidifying our back end” said Rodriguez. Nearn and linebackers Hill, Ethan Saunders, Lockhart, Daniel, Allan Bowden, Cameron Rosenberger “have played really well and are pretty aggressive guys” said Rodriguez.

“We try to be a physical team on both sides of the ball. We have owned that identity and hopefully will continue that throughout the season,” he said.

Entering the game against Arlington, Rodriguez was concerned about Walker, whom he called a tremendous player, and Chandler.

“Both those guys have the ability to score on any play. They have a number of other really good players. The quarterback has done a great job of stepping in for a great player they had in Tate Kolwyck. They have a lot of weapons and Coach Sykes has done a really nice job with them. There is a lot to worry about them.”

Despite some setbacks, Sykes said that his team has improved weekly. He was concerned about ECS.

“They are very disciplined. They don’t make mistakes. Offensively they won’t be flashy but they are going to try to control the game and take some deep shots when they can. Defensively they are nothing fancy,” he said.

After the game, Sykes emphasized that his seniors have two regular-season games left.

“Nothing is guaranteed to them. They have to rally the troops and do everything they have to do to find a way to get some wins.”

After a 42-34 loss to Lausanne the week before, the Eagles wanted to rebound said Caughron.

“It was a really tough loss but we bounced back. Lausanne is an incredible team,” he said. “We learned a lot from that game and that was definite momentum going into the break. Being 6-2 is something we haven’t done for a long time.”

Said Welch, “We knew we had to respond against a tough opponent, Arlington. We came out with energy and got the job done.”

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