The Smith Golden Eagles overcame four turnovers by playing stout defense and winning field position as they bested the Eastern Guilford Wildcats 14-11 at Claude Manzi Stadium in Greensboro on Friday night.
The Golden Eagles ground game ate up most of the first quarter. On its opening drive, Smith found holes and burst through a tough Eastern Guilford to get into the red-zone. Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, they were unable to put the ball into the end zone after marching down the field. Facing fourth-and-long, Smith quarterback Jordan Williams threw a pass that was intercepted by Eastern’s Nic Cheely and the scoring threat was nullified.
The Golden Eagles’ defense provided an answer to the turnover, an interception of its own.
Dominique Graves’ first pass attempt of the night was intercepted on just the third play from scrimmage, and the first quarter ended with neither team scoring.
Eastern Guilford placekicker Collin Smith came up big for the Wildcats in the second quarter when he booted a 34-yard field goal through the uprights to give his team a 3-0 lead with 8:59 to play in the second quarter.
The Wildcats looked to be gaining momentum when Nic Cheely intercepted Williams for, yes, the second time in the first half with 1:13 to play in the second quarter.
Eastern’s offense got the ball back went to work through the air as Graves connected with Zaccheus Milton and Adam Akins for big gains putting them on the Smith 10 yard line with less than 20 seconds to play in the half. In a fortunate break for Smith and a heartbreaking one for Eastern, Ola Shabowala intercepted the ensuing pass attempt by Graves, leading to halftime.
The Wildcats received the second half kickoff. A deep kick from Smith forced the team to start the half from its own 11 yard line. The Eastern offense promptly went three-and-out, forcing a punt that gave Smith the ball on the Eastern 46.
Smith relied on the running game it established in the first half and marched down the field to the end zone with 4:21 to play in the third quarter, giving them the lead, 7-3.
Although Smith fumbled and turned the ball over on the next two drives, their defense continued to bail them out and stop Eastern Guilford, keeping the team in the game.
After the consecutive turnovers, the Golden Eagles once again won the field position battle and started on the Eastern 41 yard line.
Golden Eagle sophomore Jordan Williams completed two huge passes on the ensuing drive. The second, to Christian Cheeks, was good for a 24-yard TD that put Smith up by a score of 14-3 with just under eight minutes left in the game.
Eastern Guilford fought back by going 80 yards on their next possession. Graves led the way, hitting his targets and carrying the ball to the house in just over three minutes. The Wildcats made the two-point conversion, cutting the Smith lead to 3.
The Wildcats defense came up big as it curbed the Golden Eagle attempt to get the ball back in the hands of Graves with two minutes to play.
Smith’s defense made countless plays to keep the team in the game on Friday night, but its ability to stop the Wildcats in their tracks sealed the win for the Golden Eagles.
Smith head coach Brandon Wiggins was pleased that his team prevailed despite the struggle.
“The red zone has been our enemy offensively,” he said. “At the end of the day, we got the job done. We scored when we needed to score and made the stops when we needed to stop them.
“Field position and turnovers played a big part in this game. I felt like we had good field position throughout the game and those things add up.”
Smith quarterback Jordan Williams feels the momentum his team has going forward.
“We are really starting to come around as a team,” Williams said. “This win gives us confidence going into the next games, which will lead to more wins.”
Smith improves to (3-2) on the season with the victory, as they travel to Mt. Tabor next week, and Eastern Guilford falls to (3-2). The Wildcats will host Williams at home Friday.
(EG) FG Collin Smith 34
(SMI) Zack White 3 run (Dylan Wallington kick)
(SMI) Christian Cheeks 24 pass from Jordan Williams (Wallington kick)
(EG) Dominique Graves 8 run (Kalind Christian pass)