Titans hold on late to defeat Cardinals
The stats sheet won’t be pretty to look at, but all that matters for the Coal Ridge Titans is that they added another “W” to the most important column with a 21-14 win, Friday, over the Grand Valley Cardinals at Coal Ridge High School.
With 12 combined turnovers, both offenses saw the field quite often on the night, but it was the 21 first-half points by the Titans that was just enough to defeat the Cardinals.
While both offenses struggled with turnovers, it was the defenses that really left their marks on the final score.
Despite the offensive struggles all night, three Jacx Power rushing touchdowns gave the Titans plenty of breathing room in large part because of a strong running game and a swarming defense.
“I thought Jacx did a great job, especially after being forced into the running back role with Cameron Chacon going down last week,” Coal Ridge head coach Trorie Rickert said. “He ran hard and did a really good job.”
To start the game the Titans defense forced five straight three-and-outs by the Cardinals offense, before Coal Ridge cornerback Brandon Kuersten picked off Cardinals quarterback Jeffrey Holbrook with the Titans already up 21-0 in the second quarter.
Three plays after Kuersten’s interception, Coal Ridge quarterback Jackson Sargent was picked off by Grand Valley’s Leoray Hernandez.
On the next Titans drive after forcing a Cardinals three-and-out, Sargent lofted a deep ball for Jacob Morgan down the right sideline, but Morgan was unable to make the catch, With the ball bouncing off of Morgan’s hands and back into the air, Cardinals safety Angel Garcia made a tremendous play on the ball by tapping his feet inbounds and securing the catch for a huge interception.
In the win, Sargent — a junior — threw four interceptions, but the defense was able to pick him up time and time again.
“Jackson’s still learning,” Rickert said. “He needs some technique work, and he’s young. It was tough though, because we needed to throw the ball to take some pressure off the running game. I thought we should have been able to throw the ball a little bit better, but he’ll learn from it.”
Making up for the Titans offensive mistakes, the defense buckled down time and time again in the first half, forcing the Cardinals to punt it away or turn it over.
Holding a 21-0 lead at halftime, the Titans looked to run away with their second win of the season, but the young Cardinals would have none of it, roaring back in the second half to put pressure on the Titans.
Freshman running backs Jonathan Pena and Levi Nolan, along with Holbrook and his receivers, Hernandez and Laytham Magana, moved the ball up and down the field in the second half against the Titans but just couldn’t capitalize enough on their numerous opportunities.
Coming out of the half, Grand Valley marched 80 yards in 14 plays, capping off the drive on a 29-yard catch and run from Holbrook to Hernandez, putting the Cardinals on the board for the first time all game with 6:52 left in the third quarter.
Three plays later Magana picked off Sargent to give the Cardinals the ball in Coal Ridge territory, but Holbrook was later intercepted by Tripper Gore to put the Titans offense back on the field.
A turnover-on-downs by the Titans gave the ball back to the Cardinals once again at their own 31-yard line.
Relying on Pena’s ability to move the ball on his own on the ground, the Cardinals found themselves in the red zone for the first time against the Titans midway through the fourth quarter. Looking to pull within one score, the Cardinals seemingly lost their sense of direction and quickly marched backwards, thanks to three huge sacks from the Titans defense — one of which was aided by a high snap to Holbrook that caused him to lose yards while trying to recover it. Grand Valley was pushed out of field goal range and turned the ball over on downs.
“I thought our defense did a great job,” Rickert said. “They really came up big. When we needed them they did. It’s tough; we let them back into the game and gave them a lot of plays, and didn’t really take care of what we should have, but we came through.”
Trying to seal the win, the Titans went back to Power and fullback Jacob Larsen, but the Cardinals defense stood tall once again in the second half.
“Defensively, we really improved this week,” Grand Valley head coach Tim Lenard said. “It was just a different attitude. We were inspired tonight and played with a lot of heart.”
Following the three-and-out, Titans punter Luis Hernandez attempted to pin the Cardinals deep in their own territory, but the snap went well over his head and came to a stop around the 5-yard line, where he picked it up and somehow got the punt away without getting it blocked.
The Cardinals took over on the Titans 26-yard line still trailing by 14 points. From there, it was all Holbrook, who burst up the middle from five yards out for the touchdown, pulling Grand Valley within seven with 1:28 left in the game.
With the game seemingly in hand for the Titans due to the little time left on the clock, Coal Ridge went back to Power — who finished with 80 yards and all three Titans touchdowns on 19 carries — once again on first down. The senior tailback picked up a big 16 yards on the run thanks to three broken tackles. From there, it seemed to be over for the Cardinals, but a fumbled exchange from center to quarterback gave the Cardinals one last shot at tying the game.
However, much like the game went all night, the defense came up large for the Titans as Morgan picked off Holbrook for the second time in the game, sealing the win for the Titans, pushing them to 2-1 on the season.
“When you force as many turnovers as we did tonight, you’re supposed to win,” Lenard said. “We gave our offense an opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, we just came up short tonight.”
Despite dropping their third straight game to start the season, Lenard is very happy with the growth and improvement he’s seen week after week from the young Cardinals squad, who fought through four tough quarters against the Titans.
“I am really proud of them,” Lenard said. “You can’t afford to spot a team like Coal Ridge 21 points and expect to come back, but we gave it one heck of a shot. We shut them out in the second half defensively, and we scored 14 points in the second half. I’m just real proud of the effort. I couldn’t be prouder of the second half. We had a lot of opportunities there. They fought hard tonight.”
Grand Valley will travel to Basalt next Friday in the final game before conference play starts, while Coal Ridge will host Olathe.
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