Big plays hurt Lions in road loss at Wren

By Rocky Nimmons

PIEDMONT — The Daniel Lions looked to be cruising to their first Region I-4A victory last Friday night as they jumped to an early 21-7 lead on the Wren Golden Hurricanes.

That is when the wheels fell off for the Lion defense, as the unit gave up three big plays that ended in touchdowns for the ‘Canes — for 58, 44 and 24 yards.

“We did not do enough to win,” Daniel coach Jeff Fruster said. “We gave up a lot of big plays. We did not respect (Wren’s) talent enough.

“Defensively, we had some holes in the plan, and we have got to execute. Everything that happened tonight is on me. We have to put together a better game plan for our team to be successful.”

10-3 Page 1B.inddComplicating the big holes in the Daniel defense was the early exit of Lion junior quarterback Ben Batson. Batson was lost on the offensive side of the ball with an injury early in the second half.

“We have known that Batson has been a little tweaked for a couple of weeks now, and once again that is poor planning on my part,” Fruster said.” I thought Noah Lupton stepped in at QB and was a little rusty at first. But he stepped up and made some good plays.”

The game could not have started any better for Fru’s crew, as the defense looked to have set the tone early. Daniel’s Ramaun Myers laid a big hit on Wren running back Trey Gray, knocking the pigskin loose. Miles Turmon recovered for his team, and the Lions were in business at the Wren 21. Three snaps later, Batson found a hole and went in for a Daniel touchdown. Nick Muchow nailed the PAT, and less than two minutes into the game, Daniel was out front 7-0.

The Daniel defense held on the Hurricanes’ next possession and forced Wren to punt. But a muffed catch by Daniel’s Brandon Peppers gave the Golden Hurricanes the ball back deep in Lion country at the 39-yard line.

Wren took the turnover and turned it into points, as it mounted a five-play drive that was capped by an 11-yard scamper by Gray for Wren’s first score of the night with 5:42 to play in the first. Brayden Pickens added the point after to even the game at 7-7.

Peppers made up for his early mistake on the ensuing kickoff. The Lion speedster took the kick at the 12 and juked his way through traffic, racing 88 yards for a Daniel score. Muchow tacked on the PAT, and the Lions had regained the lead 13 seconds after the Wren score, 14-7.

10-3 Page 1B.inddIt just kept getting better for Fruster’s boys in blue and gold, as Wren quarterback Jay Urich fumbled the ball away on the first snap of the Hurricanes’ next possession. Daniel’s Peter Cote tracked down the ball for his offense, setting the Lions up at the Wren 19.

John Bolton/
Daniel senior Will Swinney looks for running room after a catch against Wren on Friday night.

The Lions went to “ground and pound” and relied on the legs of running back Kiandre Sims and Batson to get them to paydirt. Daniel showed a new wrinkle on the series, breaking out the jumbo package. When they got close to the end zone, defensive linemen lined up as fullbacks in a full-house set and led the way for Batson, who scored from a yard out to complete the six-play drive. Muchow was true on the extra point, and the Lions were rolling 21-7.

It got ugly fast for the Daniel defense from there, however. The Wren staff seemed to have seen a chink in the armor of coordinator Kirk Ellison’s unit and took it to the Lions with a vengeance.

Wren answered the Lion with a four-play, 66-yard drive that featured a nine and 20 yard run followed by a 58-yard blast from Urich for a score. Pickens added the PAT with 2:08 left in the first quarter, pulling the ‘Canes to within seven at 21-14.

Daniel did try to keep the points coming by pushing the ball 50 yards to the Wren 6-yard line the next time the Lions touched the rock. The drive fizzled, forcing Fruster to send out Muchow for a 23-yard field goal try. Muchow was money and split the uprights with 11:13 to play in the half, putting the Lion ahead by 10 at 24-14.

10-3 Page 1B.inddWren scored again two possessions later, moving the ball 71 yards in eight plays. This time it was another big play that hurt the Daniel defenders. Urich managed to find Hurricane receiver Jeremiah Neubia wide open for a 44-yard strike for a Wren touchdown. Pickens was on the mark with the PAT, and the ‘Canes were now within three points of the Lions at 24-21.

Batson, who absorbed a ton of punishment all night, took a sack on a fourth and 12 midway through the third quarter and was helped to the sideline and never got back on the field the remainder of the night.

The Hurricanes were again on the march following the stop and mounted an 85-yard drive that included a 32-yard run by Neubia and followed by a 24-yard pass from Urich for a touchdown. Pickens added the point after, giving Wren their first lead at 28-24.

An interception set up the Hurricanes’ final points of the game as Noah Lupton, subbing for Batson, was picked off by Wren’s Johnathon Cobb. The interception gave the Hurricanes the ball at the Lions’ 28-yard line. Wren went for a trick play on first down that saw Neubia take a pitch then stop and throw back to Urich, picking up 25 yards. Two plays later, Urich took the ball in from a yard out with only 9:35 to play, stretching Wren’s lead to 35-24.

Will Swinney showed huge guts and took the Lion offense on his back the rest of the way. The senior wide receiver pulled the big cats to within a score when he snatched a Lupton pass and fought his way 54 yards and into the end zone for a Daniel touchdown with 4:36 to play. Muchow’s PAT made the score 35-30 in favor of Wren.

Daniel continued the late rally, halting the Hurricanes and forcing a punt. Daniel moved the ball 40 yards in five plays, all the way down to the Wren 29 as time was ticking away. Disaster struck as Fruster called for a spiked pass to stop the clock with 31 seconds to play, only to have it called a fumble, ending all the hopes for a Lion comeback. The game ended with the Lions falling 35-30.

10-3 Page 1B.indd“At the end of the day, we let a team hang around and hang around and that does not increase your chances of being successful,” Fruster said.

The Lions will now have to prepare for a short week, long trip and a non-region foe as they travel all the way to Ninety Six this Thursday. The game will be played a day early to accommodate for the Clemson-Boston College game scheduled for Friday night.

Fruster said he still believes in his team.

“I still believe this team can achieve great things,” he said. “You have just to give them a better plan to go by and something they believe in.

John Bolton/
Daniel’s Hampton Earle makes a leaping grab against Wren on Friday night.

“We as the staff are going to do a good job at reinstalling the plan and making sure we are covering all the bases on all the plays both offensively and defensively. We are going to make sure we have the right kids in the right places to help us.”

Thursday’s game at Ninety Six will kick off at 7:30 p.m.