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UTICA — The Centerburg Trojans football team won the turnover battle 4-0 Friday on the road against the Utica Redskins, and turned those miscues into points, winning the season opener 28-14.
“I was super proud of the way our defense played,” Centerburg coach Andy Colella said. “We preach effort, and those turnovers come from effort.”
Neither team got off to the hottest start, with the first three drives ending in two punts and a turnover on downs. Centerburg got in to Utica territory on the third drive of the game, but couldn’t capitalize.
“I think you need a drive or two to get settled in,” Utica head coach Charlie Rowley said. “It was a little disjointed, but I liked how we played defensively early on.”
On Utica’s second possession, Centerburg senior Michael Kuhn got his team pumped up by recovering a fumble, setting up the Trojans in enemy territory on the 47. Seven plays later and Kuhn finished what he started, punching the ball in on a 1-yard run up the gut to give Centerburg the 7-0 lead with 1:09 to go in the first quarter.
“I think we did a great job. It started with our defensive and offensive line,” Kuhn said. “When they started going, it lets everything else go and flow. Our offense can get the ball in the end zone.”
After another stalled drive by each team, Utica went 80 yards in three plays, starting with a 32-yard completion from Collin McCullough to Clayton Cummons. After a run was stopped in the backfield, the Redskins kicked in the trickery, with Mack Marston receiving a handoff from McCullough and he found a left-alone Ethan Adams who trotted into the end zone to complete a 51-yard strike, knotting the game at 7 with 4:46 remaining before intermission.
Two more punts set up Centerburg up on its own 36 with 1:44 left on the clock. Nine plays later and the Trojans were set up on the 5-yard line with 13.9 seconds left. On fourth down, John Sheasby found Kuhn coming out of the backfield for a scoring strike, Kuhn’s second touchdown of the game.
“I don’t really go out and catch balls, but I got out of my comfort zone and caught the ball,” Kuhn said. “We needed it before halftime. That was huge. It got everyone fired up going in to the locker room. That set the tone for the next half.”
The Trojan score was not the last fireworks of the first half, however. Utica returned a kickoff 81 yards back to the house as time expired in the second quarter, but the score was called back due to a chop block, keeping the score set at 14-7 at the break.
“It wasn’t what we wanted going in to half, but we were preaching to forget about it,” Rowley said. “We were getting the ball coming out of half and we didn’t execute.”
Like Rowley said, Utica went 3-and-out in its first drive in the second half, similar to Centerburg’s ensuing drive. On Utica’s first play of its second drive of the half, the turnover bug struck again, with Centerburg’s Joel Ring coming out of the pile with a fumble recovery. Kuhn looked like he was going to make the Redskins pay immediately after barreling into the end zone from 20 yards out, but the score was called back for a holding penalty and the Trojans turned the ball over on downs.
The Redskins looked to be marching down the field, but Hayden Sutton put a halt to the drive, coming up with a diving interception, although Centerburg could not turn that turnover into points, giving the ball away on a punt.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Centerburg started a drive on the Utica side of the field after an errant punt and turned the good field position in to points, with Donnell Marshall going behind his line for a 3-yard score, giving the Trojans a 21-7 lead.
Marshall was not done putting his stamp on the second half. On the first play of Utica’s next drive, he snagged an interception, and two plays later found the end zone on a 34-yard scamper, giving Centerburg a 28-7 edge.
Utica forced its way back into the game, scoring on another razzle-dazzle play. McCullough found Marston on a pass, who tossed the ball back to a streaking Garrett Meyers. Meyers finished off the 41-yard play, putting the score at 28-14 with 4:51 on the clock, but the Redskins were never able to get in position to score again.
“I’m proud of the way our kids came out and played. I think we played with great effort,” Rowley said. “We just turned the ball over too much, which I think was a big difference. … I’m happy with how we played. We’ve just got to fix some mistakes and fix some turnovers.”
When the dust settled, Sheasby was 10-for-20 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Marshall paced the Trojans with 90 yards and two touchdowns, while Kuhn toted the rock on 22 plays, notching 84 yards. Stephen Schmitt also kicked in another 53 rushing yards on seven carries. He also led the team with four catches for 48 yards. John Wharton added 27 receiving yards and Kuhn and Rings racked up the other 28 yards.
Schmitt topped the defensive stat sheet, recording six solo tackles and four assisted tackles, while Kuhn contributed another seven solo tackles and two assisted tackles. Kuhn and Trey Kendrick combined for 2.5 tackles for loss.
Despite the win, it was not all good for the Trojans, who had 12 penalties for 105 yards.
“Penalties were a disaster. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot, but our kids kept playing,” Colella said. “That’s what we needed. We needed to play through it.”
McCullough finished the night going 5-for-17 for 103 yards for Utica. Meyers topped the rushing list with 30 yards on 12 carries, while Marston and Adams kicked in an additional 48 yards. Adam’s 51-yard haul earned him the top receiving spot, while Meyers and Cummons notched an additional 80 yards combined.
Meyers was all over the field on defense, with eight solo and six assisted tackles. Logan Reedy filled his stat line with four solo tackles and seven assisted tackles.
In Week 2, Utica remains home for another local contest against East Knox. Centerburg hits the road next Friday to take on Lucas, with both games set to kick off at 7 p.m.