HICKORY – In front of a sizeable homecoming crowd, the Saint Stephens Indians gave their fans plenty to be excited about on Friday night, using a strong, first-half effort to slide past the McDowell Titans 28-7.
The outcome on Friday is an anomaly for what has been a close series between the two programs over the past three seasons. In 2017, the Indians survived by a 19-17 score on their home field and last year at McDowell they survived a 40-36 shootout. This time around the game was decided a lot quicker as Saint Stephens put together a strong effort on both sides of the football.
Showing multiple formations all game, they relied on a healthy running attack and some timely passing to accumulate 330 yards of offense. Defensively, the Indians capitalized on three McDowell (1-5 overall, 0-2 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) turnovers.
However, the tone-setting play came on the opening whistle from the special teams.
Junior Zak McLauchlin took the opening kickoff from Titan kicker Seth Baird 91 yards up the middle of the wedge and scored to put Saint in front 7-0 less than 15 seconds into play. That play seemed to put the Indians (3-3, 1-1) on the offensive all night and it had the Titans trying to play catch-up before ever possessing the football.
To go along with McLauchlin’s kickoff return, Saint Stephens capitalized on one of McDowell’s three turnovers in the game. After intercepting McDowell quarterback Gabe Marsh inside their own 10-yard line, the Indians constructed a 16-play, 94-yard drive that took nearly eight and a half minutes of game time. McLauchlin (20 carries, 113 yards, TD) capped that drive by punching in a 1-yard run with 4:56 left to increase the lead to 14-0.
Then after the next Titan possession stalled out near midfield, Saint Stephens took to the air in the final minute of the half with a touchdown drive to make the lead a three-score margin.
Starting at his 38 with 56 seconds left, quarterback Connor Williams (6 of 11, 77 yards, TD, INT) completed a nine-yard pass to Zach Lee (5 receptions, 62 yards) on the right sideline and then a 16-yard pass play to Lee over on the left side to quickly get to the Titan 40. After a pair of incomplete passes, Williams made a 15-yard throw to Zane McPherson, who got out of bounds with 20 seconds left.
After another incomplete pass, Williams then came back to Lee and he scored on a 25-yard pass play where Lee caught the ball on a crossing route and then sprinted and dove across the goal line near the left pylon with 6 seconds left in the half. Chance Yang’s extra point made it an insurmountable 21-0 lead going into the break.
McDowell’s struggles offensively continued in this game. The Titans put together just 79 yards in the first half and 196 yards total. All but five of those yards came on the ground as the passing game was ineffective. The quarterback duo of Gabe Marsh and Riley Moore completed one pass in the game on ten attempts.
Despite the difficulty, the Titans were able to get one scoring drive together in the third quarter. After being the recipient of a fumble recovery inside their own 40, the offense capitalized on their longest play of the night. Running back Quantavian Moore (11 carries, 80 yards, TD) broke a 52-yard touchdown run down the left sideline, getting the Titans on the board 21-7 with 3:30 left in the third.
The team was hoping to use that score to climb back into the game late. However, the Indians responded with another lengthy drive of 66-yards over a span of six-plus minutes carrying over into the fourth quarter. McLauchlin had some key runs of 10 and 21 yards on that drive that helped pick up some first downs and take sizeable chunks of time off the game clock. With first-and-goal inside the 5, fullback Matthew Hancock (18 carries, 100 yards, TD) punched in a 2-yard run for the final score of the game.
McDowell will return home to Titan Stadium on Friday against South Caldwell for homecoming (7:30 p.m. kickoff).