Turnovers, Easley’s running cost Daniel

By Zack Mauldin

EASLEY — Winning the turnover battle is crucial at all levels of football. More often than not, the team that turns the ball over the most times in any particular game is the team leaving the field with its heads bowed in defeat.

“That’s just one of those things that doesn’t lie in football,” Daniel head coach Randy Robinson said Friday night after his team’s 21-14 season-opening loss at Easley.

True to Robinson’s words, the turnover numbers told the tale in Friday’s contest, as the Green Wave defense had four takeaways, while the Lions benefitted from just a single interception defensively. Three of the Daniel turnovers came on lost fumbles, as sophomore quarterback Andy McCall, starting in his first varsity game, seemed to have trouble at times handling shotgun snaps and getting the ball in the hands of star running back Jae’lon Oglesby.

“A young quarterback’s going to make mistakes,” Robinson said. “It was a heck of a time for it to happen, but that comes with going with a young guy.

“It comes in a big game. We’ve got an opportunity in front of a lot of people with a lot of excitement, and we turned the football over. You can’t do that against a good team, and Easley’s got a good team this year.”

Robinson did lay a bit of the blame on what he thought could have been a couple missed calls by officials. Robinson said an Easley player was clapping his hands, mimicking McCall’s signal for the snap.

“If a snap is simulated it’s a penalty, and unfortunately we had two simulated snaps, and that was the two bad snaps,” he said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t caught.”

Although the turnovers were a major cause for concern for the Lions offensively, the highly touted Daniel defense toted its fair share of the blame from Robinson postgame as well.

The Lions returned the bulk of the pieces from last year’s defense, which held opponents to around 70 yards per game on the ground and shut out seven opponents, but the Green Wave pounded away at Daniel, rushing more than 60 times for 331 yards. Easley junior CJ Fuller led the way with 141 yards on 18 carries.

“They flat-out whipped us on the defensive line,” Robinson said. “That hasn’t happened in a real long time, and it’s something that will be addressed in practice.”

Third-year Easley head coach Chad Smith is now 3-0 against Robinson and the Lions, having won season openers versus Daniel each of the last two years as well, but Friday’s game was even more special because of his team’s performance.

“The seven shutouts they had last year and all that other stuff, our kids knew that going in,” Smith said. “We executed, and I’ve never been more proud of an offensive line or a backfield.”

Smith’s pride stemmed from his team’s standing up to adversity. The Lions ran out to a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter before the Wave scored three unanswered touchdowns to take the win.

“I tell them every week something good’s going to happen and something bad’s going to happen,” Smith said. “The team that can maintain their composure the best is going to win. We got a little bit too emotional at times tonight, but it turned out pretty good.

“Honestly, we have very special kids here, and I wouldn’t expect anything less of them.”

The Lions opened the scoring in the first quarter, as Oglesby weaved through the Green Wave defense from the 20-yard line before a defender punched the ball out of his hands into the end zone and receiver Tyus Gaines dove on the loose ball for the touchdown. Moments later, Oglesby burst through the middle of the Easley defense, stumbling, and regained his balance before racing for a 55-yard score to put the Lions ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter.

From there, however, the Green Wave established their dominant running game and the turnover bug bit Robinson’s squad. Despite moving the ball fairly well, gaining more than 250 yards, the giveaways were more than the Lions could overcome.

“We can run up and down the field, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t score,” Robinson said. “When you wear gold helmets, it’s all about winning.”

The Green Wave got on the board with 4:19 remaining in the second quarter with a one-yard JR Crawford plunge. After a two-point conversion, Easley was within six points at halftime.

On the Wave’s first possession of the second half, Fuller showed a glimpse of why he has started showing up on college teams’ recruiting radars, taking a handoff 64 yards straight up the gut to give Easley a lead it would not relinquish. Fuller capped the scoring early in the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown.

“They followed their big offensive line,” Smith said of his running backs. “If they do that and we can get better every day, we’ll have a chance to be a special team at the end of the year.”
With the game being the first at Green Wave Stadium, the atmosphere was raucous throughout, with both sides full of spectators cheering their teams on.

“It was great for the fans, a great atmosphere,” Robinson said. “This is what football’s all about. We just wish we would have given them a better game tonight.”

The Lions will travel to Sirrine Stadium this Friday night to take on the Greenville High Red Raiders. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.