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WILMINGTON—The most important game of the West Brunswick High School football season comes one week after probably the most disappointing loss of the season.
When the Trojans play Jacksonville on homecoming Friday night, the Mideastern Conference 3-A title will be at stake. That should be enough motivation for the Trojans to bounce back from the 30-13 loss Friday at Laney.
“This is our 3-A championship,” West coach Jimmy Fletcher said. “We beat Jacksonville and we will have beaten the two 3-A teams and we’ll win the conference in 3-A. So that’s going to be huge for us.”
West is 2-2 in the conference, 4-4 overall. Jacksonville is 1-7 overall. It lost 42-3 on Friday to New Hanover.
Against the Laney Bucs, West fumbled twice near the Laney 20 in the loss, but the second fumble was the pivotal one. The Trojans, trailing 14-6, received the second-half kickoff and began their possession at their 20. Using the same formation that clinched the victory the previous week against Ashley, the Trojans moved the ball in 10 plays to the 21. But on the next play, Charlie Brown fumbled and Laney recovered the ball at the 9 with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the quarter. On first down, a Laney running play gained 63 yards to the West 28. Four plays later, Laney scored on a 15-yard pass. The extra point put the Bucs ahead 14-6 with 5:30 left.
The score would be the first of four straight for Laney, as its offense was unstoppable in the second half.
“They played well,” Fletcher said about Laney. “I felt in the second half they kind of took it to us. But I just would have liked to have seen us punch it in there and tie the score.
“I felt we were going to score. We would have tied it up. I would have liked to have seen what would have happened had that happened.”
On West’s next possession, Laney stopped the Trojans on a fourth-and-1 at their 44 with 3:48 left. Two plays later, Laney scored on a 45-yard run. With 2:56 left, the Bucs’ lead was 21-6.
“Defensively,” Fletcher said, “they kind of took it to us in the second half. We stopped them in the first half, but the second half they ran that stretch play. We had bodies there, we just didn’t tackle. We missed a ton of tackles.”
The Trojans showed some fight in their next series. Josh Johnson returned the kickoff to the West 40. Ryan Hill completed a 10-yard pass to Bradley Bell. Aided by a 15-yard penalty, the Trojans moved the ball to the 26. From there, Maverick Pate scored. He bounced off blocker Jayman Johnson and lunged into the end zone before the ball came loose from his hands. Corey Bell’s extra point cut the Laney lead to 21-13 with 32.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But Laney scored on both of its possessions in the fourth quarter, the first on a 12-yard run with 9:10 left for a 27-13 lead. After forcing a West punt, the Bucs scored on a 47-yard field goal with 3:47 left.
The game started badly for the Trojans from the opening kickoff, as the return went to the West 12. Four plays later, from the 3, the Bucs scored. After the extra point, Laney led 7-0 with 9:46 left in the first quarter.
The Trojans scored on their second possession, which began at West’s 18. West moved the ball in three plays to its 29. On the next play, Hill ran to his right, stopped and turned up the middle of the field. He veered toward the left and ran 63 yards to the Laney 8. From there, Charlie Brown scored. The extra point was no good, and that left West trailing 7-6 with 3:58 left in the quarter.
Neither team scored the rest of the half. Two apparent Laney touchdowns were nullified because of penalties.
West’s only other best chance to score in the half came on its fourth possession. The Trojans began the drive at the Laney 40. On third-and-10 from the 50, Hill kept the ball on an option to pass and ran to the Bucs’ 30. But Johnson fumbled on the next play and that ended the drive with 6:37 left in the half.
And to Fletcher, the fumbles were the difference between winning and losing.
“Turnovers,” he said. “We had two opportunities to score and we fumbled. We’re not going to beat good football teams like that.”
The West junior varsity lost 41-7 on Thursday to Laney. The Bucs led 14-0 before the Trojans scored on a 30-yard run by sophomore Aaron Hankins. Taylor Buffkin kicked the extra point. Laney clinched the victory by scoring in the third quarter on a kickoff return and an interception.
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Before the game, Fletcher said West would try to do some new things. That occurred in the second quarter, when West had the ball on its 27 with 2:55 left. Jay Gause, from the shotgun formation, played quarterback. But he bobbled the ball on back-to-back plays and the Trojans had to punt.
“We were trying to get Ryan the ball in space,” Fletcher said. “Both times we had opportunities and we fumbled the snap. I don’t know what happened. We worked on that for two weeks and it had been perfect in practice. So we’ll go back to the drawing board on that.”
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Unofficially, Hill gained 107 yards on seven carries. Pate gained 94 yards on 12 carries and scored once. Brown gained 39 yards on eight carries and scored once. Montel Mcatee gained 23 yards on eight carries.
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Fumbles have hampered West all season, and Fletcher has seen enough.
“We can’t win turning the ball over,” he said. “We’re going to change some things and do some different drills. I know as coaches we’re going to be on their tail on Monday.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.