The East Lincoln Mustangsâ€™ homecoming game against Hunter Huss was a microcosm of their â€˜oh so closeâ€™ season.
Huskiesâ€™ sophomore running back Austin Honeycutt scored a two-yard touchdown with less than 20 seconds left giving them a 14-7 victory and ruining the Mustangsâ€™ homecoming.
The Mustangsâ€™ defense, once again, put together a strong effort holding the Huskies to 280 total yards but big plays and turnovers proved to be the difference. East Lincoln had a season-high eight fumbles and lost four of them.
The turnovers offset a rushing attack that averaged 7.8 yards a carry compiling 236 yards on 30 carries. Junior running back Ryan Sykes had 175 of those yards on 23 attempts.
In a game where breakaway plays were limited, Hunter Hussâ€™ D.J. Knox hit receiver Demario Garven on a screen to the left side of the field. Garvin did the rest breaking about eight tackles with a blend of spin moves and power on his way to a 69-yard touchdown. Miles Lynn hit the extra point giving the Huskies a 7-0 advantage with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the last play of the first, Sykes found the corner on the visiting sideline and dashed 56 yards down to the eight-yard line. After a holding penalty, Mustangsâ€™ quarterback Grayson Schram hit Xavier Alexander on a seam route for 14-yards. Alexander was hit immediately on the play causing him to fumble, but Seth Alexander played the role of opportunist recovering in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
Ellis Dunston made the extra point to tie the game 7-7 with slightly over 10 minutes in the half.
For nearly the rest of the contest, both defenses thwarted what the opposing offense was trying to do. After Hunter Huss had drove inside the Mustangsâ€™ 40-yard line with 1:58 left in the third, Honeycutt was stuffed on 4th and 1.
The Mustangs were unable to continue the momentum the potential game-changing play could have had fumbling on their next possession.
On the ensuing Mustangsâ€™ possession, Sykes who had gained 30 yards on his three previous carries, fumbled attempting to gain more yards as the Huskiesâ€™ Josh Brown recovered.
East Lincoln defensive back Antron Nixon, running stride for stride with a Huskiesâ€™ receiver, gave his team new hope picking off a deep pass with 9:05 remaining. The Mustangs put together a nine-play drive before being forced to punt.
The Huskies deliberately took advantage with a 13-play 57-yard scoring drive. Two big plays marked the final drive.
On fourth and one from East Lincolnâ€™s 47-yard line Knox gained two yards to keep the Huskies alive.
On the next play, on what appeared to be a seemingly innocent three-yard gain a 15-yard face-masking penalty gave Hunter Huss the ball inside East Lincolnâ€™s 30-yard line.
The resilient Mustangsâ€™ defense had another chance to turn the Huskies away on third and eight, Honeycutt gained 13-yards giving them the ball inside the five yard line.
East Lincolnâ€™s head coach Matt Rikard believed the difference-maker was once again turnovers.
â€œWe had four turnovers and put the ball on the ground eight times. Weâ€™re not going to beat anybody. We were lucky to keep it as close as what we did,â€ he said.
Rikard was pleased with his teamâ€™s effort especially the defense.
â€œThe defense played well up until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Offense played well right up until the time we fumbled it. We were getting 25, 30-yard runs then fumbling at the end of it,â€ he said.
Defensive linemen and seniors Clay Martin and Tavarus Freedom made a habit of disrupting things in the Hukiesâ€™ backfield all night.
The Mustangsâ€™ secondary played a solid game. Nixon blanketed Huss receivers all game coming away with a couple of pass break-ups and one interception.
Scrham had a big hit in the fourth quarter from his secondary position that forced a fumble which he recovered.
Rikard was pleased with their play.
â€œAntron played a good game for us. Thomas Huntley also stepped up and played well for Russell Mahaffey (one of our starting corners),â€ he said.
Nixon summed up his outstanding defensive performance in a humble manner.
â€œI just went out there and tried to do what coach has been teaching me the past couple of weeks. Our defense did pretty good, but we just had too many costly turnovers on offense,â€ he said.
The loss drops East Lincoln to 2-7 on the season and 1-4 in the Big South 3A. Hunter Huss improves to 5-3, 3-2. by John Mark Brooks