Despite the autumn chill and endless, sweeping wind from the north, Friday night’s game was an exciting matchup between the AVCTL’s Valley Center (2-4) and Goddard Eisenhower (1-5) for the Tigers’ Homecoming game.
The visiting Hornets were able to take a 14-0 lead in the first half—six of those points from an Eisenhower turnover—but the Tigers rallied late, putting up six in the fourth quarter. But, the Valley Center coverage kept long passes out of receivers’ hands, and the Hornets held onto their early lead, winning 14-6.
“I’m not happy about the loss, but I am happy that we fought back in the second half,” Eisenhower coach Charlie Nally said. “That’s all I can ask of the players—is the effort that they put into the second half.”
Eisenhower came out of the gate firing. The Tiger defense stopped Valley Center on the Hornets’ first drive of the game, and the excitement and momentum seemed steeped toward the home side of the field.
But, then on its first offensive possession, the Tigers fumbled the ball on their own 37 yard line three minutes into the game. Valley Center recovered the ball and scored a touchdown run on the subsequent drive. The extra point attempt was no good, making the game 6-0.
The Tigers took possession again. But, a few plays into the drive, Valley Center’s Garrett Reeves and Justin Holdaway tackled quarterback Blake Ramey—who played quarterback Friday night instead of Trevor Hughes—and there was a loose ball on the field.
The Hornets recovered it, and began another march down the field. However, with only 10 yards to go to the Eisenhower endzone, Valley Center fumbled the ball on a handoff from quarterback Braden Tormey, and the Tigers recovered.
The Tigers were unsuccessful on their subsequent drive, and the momentum stayed with Valley Center, although the Hornets did not score again until the final minute of the half. Tormey ran the ball into the endzone for the two-point conversion.
Eisenhower tried to get on the scoreboard before halftime, but Valley Center’s coverage knocked two deep passes away from the Tiger receivers, and the score was 14-0 at halftime.
“I thought Goddard Eisenhower played out and played a really tough game, and we did, too,” Valley Center coach Pat Haxton said. “They made some nice catches against us, but I’m really happy with our defense’s effort.”
In the second half, the Tigers propelled themselves down the field in a memorable drive. With the ball near their own 40 yard line, Eisenhower was forced to punt on fourth down. But, the Tigers drew a fake punt and threw it down field to Masen Allen, who ran 15 yards to gain the first down. The homecoming crowd was ecstatic, and Eisenhower had gotten the momentum back.
A few more plays brought Eisenhower near the Valley Center 25 yard line, where quarterback Ramey tossed it to receiver Trevor Hughes, who threw a 20-yard pass to Jacob Richardson for the touchdown.
The Tigers were still down 14-6—as the extra point attempt was no good—but it seemed there was still a chance for a comeback. And Valley Center knew it.
With only a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Valley Center fielded the Tigers’ punt, and Keaton Canaday returned it from the Hornets’ own nine yard line to the Eisenhower 38 yard line. Even though, the Hornets quickly found themselves near the endzone, the Tiger defense stepped up again and didn’t allow Valley Center to convert on fourth down on the next two drives.
Now, it was a race against the clock for the Tigers, with less than two minutes left in the game. Jacob Richardson continued to catch the long, “be-there” passes, which kept Eisenhower hopes alive. But, penalties and loss of downs hurt Eisenhower’s chances.
With five seconds left, near the Valley Center 30 yard line, Ramey saw Richardson deep near the sideline with three defenders nearby, and tried for it. But the ball slipped out between Richardson’s fingers before he could get a grip on it. The clock hit zero, and the final score remained 14-6.
“We played with as much heart tonight as I’ve seen these kids play with during the three years that I’ve been here,” Haxton said. “We didn’t quit, but we got ourselves into trouble sometimes—putting ourselves in drives that we couldn’t finish. But our defense stepped up.”
After the game, Eisenhower senior players exchanged hugs and words of reassurance. It was a tough loss, Nally said, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a good experience.
“Every game we’re getting a little bit better,” Nally said. “The second half I saw a much more improved team than I did in the first half. We’ve got to grow up and play.”
As the teams head into competitive district play next week, both coaches said they hope the game will give the players the momentum and confidence needed to play well the remainder of the season.
“Our kids played with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion,” Haxton said. “And that’s what we’re trying to work at—trying to get them to play harder and with more emotion every week.”
Eisenhower will travel to Wichita to play undefeated Bishop Carroll, and Valley Center will host a tough Andover team next Friday.