Golden Hurricanes outlast Blue Flame

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PIEDMONT — It was a case of one step forward and two back for the Pickens Blue Flame during their Western AAA opener Friday night at Wren.[cointent_lockedcontent]

Tommy McGaha/Courier Pickens’ Adam Thomas stiff-arms Wren’s Trey McGowens during their game Friday night.a

Tommy McGaha/Courier
Pickens’ Adam Thomas stiff-arms Wren’s Trey McGowens during their game Friday night.

Playing with heavy hearts after the shooting death of long-time coach Bill Isaacs, the Blue Flame were hoping to honor him with a win.

Both teams entered with 1-2 records, but it was the Golden Hurricanes who struck first quickly, held off a Pickens rally, and then pulled away for a 42-12 win.

“I thought we battled back from that pretty good early,” Pickens coach John Boggs said. “I felt like we just didn’t answer the bell in the second half. I think we looked unorganized. We looked out of focus. I think we had every opportunity to come out and win this ball game in the second half.

“We had a couple of short-yardage situations, and they capitalized on that, where we were trying to seize the momentum. I feel like we are a better football team than what we played out here tonight. That’s what is disappointing. I think we can play better than this. I expected us to play better than this. It’s a little disheartening to play this way and lose that way in a region game.”

Wren took the first two possessions of the game for touchdowns. The first one covered 80 yards in just six plays, as quarterback Jay Urich kept it the final seven with 10:16 left in the first quarter.

The Hurricanes went 65 yards in three plays next, scoring when Urich hit Furman commitment Bailey Rogers on a slip-screen for 37 yards with 8:30 left in the first quarter. Trevor Perry’s kick made it 14-0.

Wren won the battle of big plays, with 12 plays of 20 yards or more to just two for the Blue Flame.

Pickens settled down defensively and forced a punt. The snap sailed over Perry’s head for a safety with 1:12 left in the first, making it 14-2.

The Blue Flame defense then came up with another big play as Adam Martin made a leaping interception of Urich at the 47. The drive eventually stalled, and Matt Gravely kicked a 45-yard field goal with 10:31 left in the half.

Wren answered with a three-play, 62-yard scoring drive, with tailback Nathaniel Ekwere taking it the final four with 9:43 left in the half. The kick hit the right bar, making it 20-5.

The Blue Flame offense then got on track. Quarterback Tanner Stegall had several big runs and hit Sam Lawson on a nine-yard curl in the middle of the end zone for the score with 6:18 left in the half, making it 20-12.

The defense came up big again. Renny Croley knocked down a pass, and Tyler Gravely sacked Urich on fourth down after the Hurricanes had reached the Blue Flame 12.

Gunner Covey then ripped off a 36-yard run to the Wren 26, and after Stegall ran for two more, he tried to pass, but it was picked off by Owen Wilson.

Again, it appeared the Blue Flame defense had stymied Wren, as Tyler Gravely again provided the pressure, forcing a third and long in the waning seconds of the half. This time, Urich rolled right and found Rogers, who had gotten behind Martin, for a 71-yard touchdown strike with 55 seconds left in the half, making it 27-12 on Perry’s kick.

“We had them backed up third and long and they hit the big pass,” Boggs said. “That was a big momentum swing for them. Even still at that point, 27-12 at halftime, I felt that if we came out and executed we would be able to move the ball and punch one in and get right back in it. We never did it — credit them.

“They made big plays when they needed to. I thought their quarterback made some big plays. Their running back — I was worried about him all week long — I thought he was the most dangerous guy on the field. He proved that tonight. And (Rogers) had a pretty good game, too.”

The Blue Flame, in the first half, had been stopped on fourth and one at the Wren 20, and on the first drive of the second half, Wren again stymied the Blue Flame on fourth and one, this time at the 49, as Stegall was stopped for no gain.

“Shooting ourselves in the foot with penalites, not executing, running in the wrong hole — it was just bad. We’ve got to get better at that,” Boggs said. “Short-yardage needs to be something we can be good at, but we were terrible at it tonight.”

That started an odd second half, as for every step forward Pickens took, two steps went back. Pickens had 14 penalties in the game.

Wren took advantage of the stop and a missed holding call on a Urich scramble and scored when Ekwere ran in from eight yards out with 7:45 left. A high snap on the kick kept it 33-12.

Wren scored again on the next possession, as Ekwere went in from a yard out. Trevor Gillespie blocked the extra point, keeping it 39-12 with 1:49 left in the third.

Stegall was picked off on the next two possessions and Wren added a 41-yard field goal with 2:32 left to close out the scoring.

The game was part of an emotional week for Boggs, who played for Isaacs, and the Blue Flame.

“It is what it is,” Boggs said of the week off the field. “It’s disappointing. With everything that has transpired, it has been a difficult week off the field. On the field, I feel the kids had a good week of practice and had good focus. We’ll pay our respects Saturday, and that will be a tough day. It will be tough emotionally on me with the ties there. It’s a shame. It’s a tragedy. Our hearts go out to both of those families.”

Pickens will host West-Oak on Friday night, while Wren will entertain unbeaten Seneca.