It may just be game one in what is a long season, but Savannah head coach Chad Smith learned a lot about his football team in a hard-fought 19-15 win at Grain Valley Friday night.
Cramping issues due to the heat and fumbling problems were just a part of the adversity Smith’s squad overcame thanks to a long fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
“We talk about adversity all the time,” Smith said. “It’s going to try and knock you down and how are you going to react? I’m very proud of our guys. You have to have amnesia and be able to turn negative plays into positive plays. They answered to it.”
The final answer was after the Eagles had regained the lead, 15-12, on a 60-yard touchdown run from Zack Ehlen with 11 minutes left in the game.
The key for Savannah’s offense was their ability to keep the Eagle defense on the field. On their last two scoring drives, the other coming in the second quarter, the Savages were 6 for 7 on third down and made their only fourth down attempt.
“We’ve got to get off the field,” first-year Grain Valley head coach David Allie said. “Some of the issues were just fundamental things. It’s thing we need to get better on.”
Using what had been working most of the night, a strong rushing attack, the Savages put together an impressive 14-play, 70-yard drive that took nearly 8 minutes off the clock to win it.
Taylor Gilbert capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 19-15.
“The offense answered,” Smith said. “We picked up the defense when they were down.”
Even though Savannah’s running game had been strong most of the evening, it was quarterback Clayton McGinness and Chase Simpson hooked up for two key third-down conversions on the game-winning drive.
“That shows that we’re a dual-threat team,” Smith said. “We can throw when we need to. Chase is a playmaker. We’ve adjusted our offense to get him the ball more.”
Savannah scored the game’s first touchdown midway through the first quarter on a 35-yard run from quarterback Clayton McGinness, but the Eagles came right back and went ahead 8-6 after a 1-yard touchdown run from Blake Lacey.
Savannah went back in front 12-8 before halftime on a 6-yard scoring run from Simpson.
Thanks to their long touchdown run – a two-play drive – and some long drives by the Savannah offense, the Eagles had the ball only three times in the second half. One ended in an interception deep in Savannah territory on fourth down, while their final drive came to an end when they were unable to convert on a fourth-and-one.
The Eagle defense also recovered two fumbles but the offense wasn’t able to convert them into points.
While the running game collected 200-plus yards, the Eagles’ passing game could never get going, throwing for fewer than 50 yards on the night.
“We expect a little more out of it,” Allie said of the passing game. “I’m sure when we look at film we’ll see we missed on a few plays. But with the way we were running the ball we had to go with it. But we just didn’t execute well enough to get it done tonight. It was a gritty performance from Savannah.