Missed chances cost Lions in loss

By Rocky Nimmons

CENTRAL — The Daniel Lions entered Friday night’s game against the

Rocky Nimmons/Courier Daniel’s Stephon Kirksey is wrapped up by a trio of Wren defenders during their game Friday at Singleton Field.

Rocky Nimmons/Courier
Daniel’s Stephon Kirksey is wrapped up by a trio of Wren defenders during their game Friday at Singleton Field.

Wren Golden Hurricanes with revenge on their minds.[cointent_lockedcontent]

A year earlier, the Lions fell to the Canes as the result of what many saw as a bad call. That call, an apparent fumble that would have iced the game for Daniel, was overturned and allowed Wren to drive for the go-ahead points and snatch a victory and the region title.

This year, the Lions had the Hurricanes on Singleton Field and prepared all week with a vengeance. But when the final whistle was blown, coach Randy Robinson’s jungle cats were just as disappointed, falling to Wren 14-7.

“We did not play very well,” Robinson said. “When you don’t play together as a team, these kinds of things happen. We had a lot of mental breakdowns tonight. That is all our fault. (Wren) didn’t stop us. We stopped ourselves all night long. That is just the way it happened.”

The Lion defense played a solid game for the most part. Their offense, on the other hand, failed to finish drive after drive, getting inside the Wren 30-yard line on five different occasions and not producing a single point.

“It should have been a lopsided game our way,” Robinson said. “We didn’t play well. We are much better than we performed tonight. It was disappointing. I know our seniors are disappointed, but that is just part of the game. You have to overcome people that are out. We were missing a key component tonight, and it cost our team.”

The Lions started off well on offense. Daniel scored its only points of the night the first time it had the ball. The Wren defenders faced a one-two punch, as quarterback Ben Batson and running back Stephon Kirksey kept the Hurricanes guessing on every play. Kirksey picked up 35 yards on four runs, while Batson got the final two for the touchdown. In all, the drive lasted seven plays and covered 70 yards. Lion kicker Rivers Sherrill added the extra point to put the Lions out front 7-0 with 5:56 to play in the first quarter.

Wren relied on the legs of quarterback Jay Urich, and the signal caller proved to be hard to bring down. He and running back Nathaniel Ekwere carried the load on the Hurricanes’ first push to points. The drive lasted eight plays and went 84 yards. Ekwere accounted for 26 yards on three touches, but it was Urich who was the workhorse, making the Lion defense bleed for 58 yards on five keepers, including the final 12 for a walk-in touchdown with 11:21 left to play in the half. Trevor Perry aced the PAT to knot the game at 7-7.

A big defensive stand by Wren and a Lion punt that only traveled seven yards cost the Lions the lead. Starting at the Daniel 30, it only took Wren four plays to hit paydirt. Urich again called his own number on first and 10 from the 19 and got the corner on a quarterback sweep, fighting in for a touchdown with 7:32 left to play in the half. Again Perry split the uprights, and the Canes had a 14-7 lead.

The Lions came storming back after the ensuing kick and produced a nice 14-play drive that covered 59 yards. The trouble was Daniel needed 80 for a touchdown. On the series’ third play, Batson found wide receiver Will Swinney for 16 yards. Two plays later, Kirksey hit a seam and dashed for 10 more. The Lions continued their slow march, but the drive stalled on fouth and 13 from the Hurricanes’ 21, as Batson went to the air, only to see his pass fall incomplete.

Wren took over and simply ran the clock out, satisfied to go into the half on top 14-7.

At intermission, Daniel honored its 2015 Hall of Fame inductees. This year’s class included Heidi Cooper, Ryan Lindsay, Forrest Foster, Walter Cox and Harold Bagwell.

The second half started with Daniel taking the opening kickoff. Thank to a great return, the Lions had the ball at their own 39 with great field position. Robinson’s troops looked ready to even the score and marched the ball down to the Wren 4-yard line on 11 plays. The Wren defense bent during the series, but did not break. The Lions pushed the ball to the Canes’ 8, picking up a first down. Kirksey got the first three calls, picking up four yards. On fourth and goal from the 4-yard line, Batson looked for Swinney on a crossing pattern, but Swinney never had a chance and was hammered before he could get a handle on the pass. The play gave Wren the ball back on downs.

Daniel defensive coordinator Jeff Fuster had his unit dialed in, and the defense again forced Wren into a punting situation the next time it had the ball.

The Lions’ offense put the ball in play at the Wren 24 and again moved downfield. In nine plays, Batson and company pushed the pigskin deep to the Hurricanes’ 17. Facing fourth and eight, Robinson called on Sherrill for a 34-yard field goal with 11:55 to play in the game, but Sherrill just pushed the ball wide right, and again there was nothing to show for the offense’s effort.

Daniel’s last chance came on its next series. The Lions, starting at their own 33, looked in good shape after a 32-yard strike from Batson to Swinney got Daniel into Wren territory at the 34. The drive was kept moving by runs by Kirksey and Batson. The Lions’ hopes were shattered when on fourth and seven Batson had his pass picked off by Wren defensive lineman Clay McCroskey. That was as close as the Columbia blue and gold would get, and the night ended with a 14-7 Wren win.

All night Wren looked to have Daniel’s signals figured out, with the Lions running every play right into a prepared defense.

“We have to do a better job of disguising signals. When people have got your signals, you have to adjust,” Robinson said.

This Friday it does not get any easier for the 2-4 Lions as they travel to face the Belton-Honea Path Bears.

“We will be playing one of the best teams we have seen this year when we go to Belton-Honea Path next week,” Robinson said. “Other than Westside, BHP will be the most talented group that we see.

“We will see if we have a little leadership and have some guys that want to get up and practice on Monday. I don’t think it matters any more if we are at home or traveling. We just have to look for the heart and soul of the Daniel team. Right now we haven’t got it.”