Ellwood hangs on to defeat Marion in regular season opener

Published 1:13 am Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ellwood Chrisitan’s Rayford Mitchell attempts to break the tackle of a Francis Marion player, who has his hands on his facemask.--Daniel Evans

Ellwood Chrisitan’s Rayford Mitchell attempts to break the tackle of a Francis Marion player, who has his hands on his facemask.–Daniel Evans

It took two days to complete and at times it wasn’t pretty, but Ellwood Christian opened football season Friday with a 14-8 victory over Francis Marion at Memorial Stadium.

Eagles’ running back Rayford Mitchell ran for an 18-yard game-deciding touchdown in the third quarter to push Ellwood past Francis Marion, who made a late run and actually had numerous chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

“You’ve always got to get the first one out of the way and for us to come out with a win is huge,” said Ellwood coach Trey Pike, who was coaching his first game for the Eagles.

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It wasn’t a normal, run-of-the-mill season opener for either side.

The game started Thursday evening but was postponed with 1:36 remaining in the first quarter due to lightning near Memorial Stadium. After the rain subsided, officials ruled the playing field was not in good enough condition to continue playing, so the game did not resume until 12 p.m. Friday.

Ellwood’s first drive Friday stalled after reaching the Marion 10-yard-line, but the Eagles got the ball back after a Francis Marion snap soared over punter D.J. Mayhand’s head. Mayhand landed on the ball at the Marion 14, but the damage was already done.

On a fourth-and-13 at the Marion 17, Ellwood quarterback Achilles Rutledge connected with wide receiver Macio Johnson for a touchdown to put the Eagles up 6-0.

After another Rams’ drive stalled out after just three plays, Ellwood drove into scoring position as the first half came to a close. The Eagles got as far as the Marion 15-yard-line but Taylor Ellis fumbled with just seconds left in the half.

Ellis’ fumble was the second time Ellwood got inside the Marion red zone in the first half and didn’t score. The first time was Thursday night when Rutledge fumbled to end Ellwood’s most successful drive before the rain delay.

However, it wasn’t just the Eagles struggling with turnovers. Both teams lost three fumbles during the game, but countless other times the ball was on the ground due to bad pitches or botched snaps.

“That’s part of the mental aspect,” Pike said. “We are driving, driving, driving and all of a sudden we do something silly and we get backed up or fumble or something like that, but you’ll take a win how you can get it some days.”

The second half started with fireworks right off the bat, as Marion fumbled the opening kickoff and the Eagles recovered.

On the first non-penalized play of the second half, Mitchell took a direct snap and ran 18-yards to give the Eagles a 12-0 lead. He also scored the ensuing two-point conversion to make it 14-0 Ellwood.

On the day, Mitchell had 24 carries for 109 yards and recovered two Francis Marion fumbles.

“The biggest thing about our offense is we want to preach for it to be a team game, but he stepped up and wanted to carry the load,” Pike said of Mitchell. “I’m trying to let him do what he can do.”

Francis Marion found a spark in the third quarter after running back Ben Walton ran for a 44-yard run down the Rams’ sidelines. On the next play, Francis Marion fumbled for the second time and the Eagles recovered.

However, on Francis Marion’s next possession, the Rams finally broke through.

Rams’ quarterback Jalayvian Webster threw a 20-yard-pass touchdown pass to KV Williams to pull the Rams within 14-6. Benard Lee scored the ensuing two-point conversion to make the score 14-8 with 3:56 left in the third quarter.

The Rams had multiple possessions to try to tie or win the game late. Marion fumbled on a pitch play at the Ellwood 40-yard-line, giving the Eagles the ball back.

Four plays later Ellwood fumbled it back to the Rams, but with only 32.4 seconds left there wasn’t much time for Marion to make a final push.

“We play a lot of young guys and they have never experienced that fire of the game,” said Francis Marion head coach Blake Thompson. “Now that they have a few notches under their belt, we are looking forward to next week at Montevallo.”

Francis Marion totaled 197 yards in the game, with most of those coming in the second half. Ellwood Christian totaled 231 yards offensively, with 200 of those coming on the ground.

Ellwood Christian (1-0) has next week off but will play again Sept. 4 at Winterboro.