Second half dooms Central in sectional loss

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Central's football team average 45 points and ran for more than 200 yards in each of its past three games.

That high-powered offense came to a grinding halt Wednesday night at Houck Stadium in a 49-13 loss to North County (10-1) in the Class 4 sectional playoffs.

"We just didn't do a good job -- especially early on -- of establishing the run," Central offensive coordinator Steve Williams said.

Fans expecting an offensive shoot-out between the Tigers, ranked seventh in Class 4, and the No. 3 Raiders were likely disappointed early when neither team got much going on offense. North County put together strong runs from Mark Stolle and used the short passing of Adam Howard to drive down the field.

Both teams battled turnovers in the first half before North County jumped on the board first off a fumble from Central (8-3) running back Brandon Twiggs. Lucas Hulsey caught a five-yard pass from Howard to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead after the first quarter.

While Central's offense sputtered, the Raiders continued to give the Tigers a chance to stay in the game by turning the ball over four times in the first half. Gabe Edwards took a Mitch Craft pass to the North County 1-yard line following a poor punt, and Craft punched it in the end zone to tie the score at halftime.

The first half was a battle of field position. While the Raiders' average field position was near midfield, Central started beyond its 30-yard line only once in the first half.

"It stuck us back and put us in a hole offensively," Craft said.

At halftime Central had only nine yards rushing and 62 yards passing.

"We were fortunate to be tied 7-7," Williams said.

Central had to punt after its first possession in the second half, and right away the Raiders came up with a big play. Howard hit Hulsey in between two Central defenders for a 34-yard pick up. A few plays later Howard went in from a yard out to put North County up for good.

"I think we realized we had to play a lot harder than we were playing," Howard said.

Following the Howard touchdown, Will Johnson fumbled the kickoff and was only able to get to the 5. On a third and long Craft threw his second interception of the game giving the Raiders the ball at the 25.

Central's defense stepped up after allowing an initial first down and forced the Raiders into a fourth-and-six play. Instead of going for the field goal, Howard lined up in the shotgun and took the snap and ran the ball around the outside and into the end zone.

"We came out in the third quarter and we couldn't establish what we wanted to do," Williams said.

The Tigers got past midfield on their next possession but turned the ball over on downs with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third. North County took advantage of the good field position when Dan Harris took a Howard screen pass 63 yards for a 28-7 lead with a minute remaining in the third quarter.

Stolle, who ran for 88 yards on 18 carries, returned an interception for a touchdown to start the fourth quarter and the Raiders would tack on two more late touchdowns to finish off their scoring.

Overall, North County outgained Central on the ground 162 to 34. In their previous meeting this season, North County -- which won 25-18 on Sept. 25 -- had only 89 yards on the ground.

"We came out earlier in the week and decided we were going to come out in the wishbone," Howard said. "It evened things out."

Edwards finished Central's scoring with a 29-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth. Edwards led the Tigers with three receptions for 78 yards.

Craft, who had led the Tigers to sectional wins in his first two seasons at quarterback, finished the game 7-of-31 for 111 yards.

"I'll always remember my senior year," Craft said. "I think it was kind of cut short. I had a lot more left than this."

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171

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