Sussex County Football ...
Indians' Season Ends
in State Semifinal Loss
Game of the Week Story ...
By ERIC MAGILL
Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photos (from top): IR's Grant Hastings on quarterback sneak, linebacker Danny Shively flies through the air for a tackle, linebacker D.J. Singleterry nails Concord's Marcus Napier, and Napier takes another hit from Indian lineman Carlous Collins(37) and linebacker Josh Gott (23).
WILMINGTON -- Jim Bunting coached his final game on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2003, but rather than dwell on lost opportunities in a Division II state tournament semifinal loss to Concord, the retiring head coach of the Indian River High School football team looked ahead to the program's future.
Like a proud grandfather, Bunting spoke of the young players who had just summoned up the courage to shrug off a three-touchdown deficit before finally succumbing to top-seeded Concord, 19-12, as their season ended with a 7-4 record and their first state tournament appearance since 1991.
"I told the seniors they laid the foundation. So have the juniors, sophomores and freshmen," said Bunting, who suffered with an 0-10 Indian squad just two years ago. "We're (the program) back, boys, we're back. Like I said, you're going to see more of Indian River, not only in conference play but up here in the finals."
On Saturday, after a dismal first 13 minutes in which fourth-seeded Indian River fell behind 19-0 by compounding the effects of a gale-force wind blowing in their faces with penalties and lapses in pass coverage on crucial downs, the Indians began to show what the program's future looks like.
With the wind at their backs in the second quarter, the Indians regrouped, and even though they didn't score in the period, they gained the confidence that would serve them in their third quarter comeback.
Starting the third period with the wind still at their backs, Indian quarterback Grant Hastings connected on a pair of touchdown passes -- the first to wide receiver Phil Hall for 12 yards and the second to wingback Josh Long for 5 yards -- to pull within 19-12 with 1:47 left in the third period.
The Indians then set themselves up with a golden opportunity to tie the game when they called a timeout to force Concord to punt into the wind one more time with just 5 seconds left in the third quarter. The punt plopped dead at the Concord 25, giving IR great field position heading into the fourth quarter.
That would be as close as the Indians would get, though, as Hastings fumbled the ball on second down and it was recovered by Concord's Ben McInnis on the 30.
Trailing with the wind blowing in their faces again, the Indians wouldn't gain another first down as Concord rose to 10-1 and moved into the state championship game for only the second time in school history. The Raiders will face Archmere, which defeated Smyrna 14-0 in the other Division II semifinal, in the state championship game on Friday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. at Baynard Stadium in Wilmington.
The Indians fell behind early by committing penalties at critical moments and surrendering big passes on crucial plays, which led to three touchdowns by senior Concord fullback Jim Lewis on runs of 1, 5 and 6 yards.
Concord took over on its first possession at the Indian 31, and a personal foul call took the ball to the Indian 10. Four plays later, Lewis bulled in from the 1 for a 7-0 Raider lead with 7:52 left in the first quarter.
The Indians committed two more penalties on their next possession to punt from their own 4 and give Concord a first down on the IR 34. This time, on fourth-and-8, the Indians surrendered a 23-yard pass from Concord quarterback Todd Menchaca to tight end Donald Plicque for a first down at the IR 9. Two plays later, Lewis scored from the 5 for a 13-0 lead.
After gaining their initial first down on their next series, the Indians stalled, and after punting the ball into Concord territory, gave the Raiders a late hit penalty that set them up on the IR 40.
A 20-yard pass from Menchaca to Plicque moved the ball to the IR 20, and five plays later, Lewis rumbled over defenders on a 6-yard run for a 19-0 Concord lead with 11:25 left in the second period.
That would be the final score for Concord, though, as Lewis left the game for good with an injury and starting tailback Shakoor Nickens was used sparingly the rest of the way on offense.
The Indians began to capitalize on their opportunities in the third quarter, as a fumble recovery by linebacker Josh Gott on the first play of the second half gave them the ball on the Concord 38.
Runs by Long, Hastings and fullback Tremayne Moorman moved the ball to Concord's 12, where, on third-and-12, Hastings connected with Hall to cut the gap to 19-6 with 8:45 to go in the third period.
After stopping Concord on its next series, the Indians took over on the Concord 36 following a short, wind-beaten punt by Menchaca. Concord gave the Indians five yards on a penalty and Long ran for 13 yards to the Raider 18. Six plays later, Hastings and Long hooked up on fourth down for a 5-yard TD pass to bring the Indians within 19-12 with 1:47 left in the quarter.
The Indians were unable to take advantage of the wind in the second quarter. On their first possession of the period, the Indians moved to their 41 before Hastings was intercepted by Concord defensive back Aaron Garcia.
After stopping Concord, the Indians then took over at their own 49 and advanced to the Concord 43 on an 8-yard run by Long, but that threat was ended when Hastings was intercepted on fourth-and-three by linebacker Isiah Mays.
On the Indians' final possession of the half, they moved from their own 40 to the 48 on another 8-yard run by Long, but the drive ended with 13 seconds left before halftime when Long fumbled after gaining 14 yards on a pass from Hastings and the ball was recovered by Plicque.
7:52 -- CONCORD (7-0 Concord)
Jim Lewis 1 run
Jim Lewis kick
3:28 -- CONCORD (13-0 Concord)
Jim Lewis 5 run
11:25 -- CONCORD (19-0 Concord)
Jim Lewis 6 run
8:45 -- INDIAN RIVER (19-6 Concord)
Phil Hall 12 pass from Grant Hastings
1:47 -- INDIAN RIVER (19-12 Concord)
Josh Long 5 pass from Grant Hastings
Indian River head coach Jim Bunting on his team's comeback:
"We just told them (at halftime), 'You've got to play like you have the whole year, like a family'. Get back out there, let's not argue amongst each other, that's what they started doing a little bit of. And it's also tough, you can't put a ball on the 30-yard-line and expect your defense every time to stop them. Nothing against Concord. They're a great ballclub, but so are we, so are we."
Bunting on the effects of the gale-force winds:
"When Concord had the wind and we're kicking the ball and the wind's blowing it backwards ... that's exactly, you saw what happened with us (when IR had the wind). We had the ball in their end literally that whole (third) quarter. The wind dictated this game today."
Bunting on the Indians' first-quarter woes:
"Jitters. These kids have never been in this atmosphere. The (two-and-a-half hour) ride probably didn't have anything to do ... but you could tell. Literally the first handoff we fumbled the ball (for a 10-yard loss). You could tell. They (players) were looking at us (coaches). It was almost, 'Papa Bear, tell me what we're supposed to do'. That's what we said at the half. I said, 'Guys, calm yourselves down, do what you've always done. When all of a sudden you're feeling kind of low, what do you do? Get in the huddle with your guys and start talking to each other'. And that's what they did."
The loss ended a five-game winning streak for Indian River, which used that streak to win the Henlopen Conference Southern Division title and its automatic Division II state tournament berth.
The Indians' future does indeed look bright. With only six seniors on the team, and only four who saw significant playing time, the Indians return 19 players who either started or saw significant minutes this season. Missed most will be senior quarterback Grant Hastings, split end Jon Bulkeley, cornerback Phil Hall and offensive tackle Frank Shockley, who will graduate.
Indian River is now 7-6 all-time in the Division II state tournament. The Indians' last victory in the tournament was a 14-8 semifinal win over Lake Forest in 1991. Concord is now 2-2 all-time in state tournaments.
Of the Indians' four losses this year, none were by more than 10 points (a 16-6 loss to Division I Sussex Central). They gave Concord its toughest battle by far against Division II teams. Before Saturday, Concord's closest game with a Division II squad was a 30-6 win over Howard.
In the Division I tournament, Newark defeated Caesar Rodney 35-28 in a semifinal game on Saturday to reach the state championship game. The Yellow Jackets will face the winner of the St. Mark's-Middletown semifinal, which had to be postponed to Sunday, Nov. 30, at 5 p.m. at Baynard Stadium in Wilmington due to torrential rains on Friday.
Beginning next season, the state tournament will expand to six teams in each division with the addition of two at-large teams.
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