Rams win big district clash despite missing six starters
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Even though last year's district title win at Sparr will always be special to Jeff Parker and the Eastside Rams, what they pulled off Friday night might have been even more impressive.
Playing without nine players who were suspended following a skirmish during last week's game at Belleview, which included six defensive starters, the Rams came into Citizens Field to face the North Marion Colts, who were hungry for payback for denying them the district title, the first time in 10 years they haven't won a league crown.
But behind the senior leadership of defensive lineman Barry Johnson, some outstanding running from Dantez Willis, the poise of quarterback Malachi Lofland and two interceptions by Kieandre McCray, the Rams did it again, beating the Colts 13-10 in a critical District 5-5A battle.
The win, Eastside's second straight to improve to 2-0 in the district and 2-3 overall, doesn't guarantee a league title, but it does put the Rams as the team to beat.
“We finally played Eastside football tonight,” Parker said. “To lose six starters on defense, our kids came out and fought together as a family. I'm so happy to see what they have done. I just want them to keep rolling.
“This is a tough district, you have to win every week. For us to come to face North Marion down six defensive starters, the guys came together and played hard together.”
Ahead only by three and with the Colts trying to make a late comeback, McCray leaped to snag his second interception at the Rams' 35-yard line with two minutes to play. Willis then ended it, getting a critical first down on an 11-yard run, and then punctuating it with a 29-yard run, carrying four North Marion defenders for some yards.
“I had to make a play for the team,” McCray said. “I am so happy I was able to come down with it.
“We had to play harder without them. Coming in, we knew it was going to be a good game. We felt like we had something to defend and we did.”
Willis finished with 123 yards while speedster Octavious Simmons had 66 on just six carries, including a 5-yard touchdown early in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead.
“We played hard, offense and defense, we fought,” Willis said. “After we got that interception, I told the line I am ending it. We had two minutes to play, and I am going to end it.”
North Marion (3-2, 1-1) kicked a 22-yard field goal just before half, to trail only 7-3 at intermission.
But the Colts struggled with consistency on offense, totaling only eight first downs and 13 penalties, often coming after a big gain. Johnson was a defensive force along the line for the Rams, who consistently put pressure on the North Marion backfield.
“Barry is one of the best leaders I have ever coached in my life,” Parker said. “He wills these kids to play football. To watch their efforts tonight, it is just a great feeling. Tez is not a big fellow in stature, but his heart is huge. That kid is a warrior.”
Eastside made it 13-3 when Lofland ran 4 yards up the middle for a touchdown following two runs for 49 yards by Simmons, setting the Rams up for their second score.
The Colts, who only had four first downs in the first half, didn't have any in the third. They were finally able to find the end zone when Robert Johnson hit a streaking Freddie Swain down the right sideline for a 35-yard score on a fourth-and-6.
North Marion, down only three, had the ball at its own 31 with 3:16 to play. After two pass completions, McCray stepped in front of the intended receiver and took away after hope for the Colts.
“He's a great player,” Parker said. “That was huge for us. That was the ballgame right there. To be able to catch it. They had momentum and for him to make that play was incredible.
“That was one of the greatest games I've coached in (last year's win at Sparr), but this year is more special because we are down six starters. And those kids are all contributors on our team.”
The Rams continue district play next Friday against Suwannee at Citizens Field. After that, they have an idle week before hosting Crystal River (Oct. 18), then going on the road at Dunnellon (Oct. 25) and Santa Fe (Nov. 1). Dunnellon is also 2-0 in the district.
“This win means a lot to us,” Willis said. “We had nine players suspended for the game. We were playing the game for them tonight.”