Saturday went a bit differently than expected for the Niceville High School faithful.
In the Eagles’ season opener, they were soundly beaten, 44-23, by Clay-Chalkville at Hoover High, in front of a nationally televised audience.
There will be two print stories in Sunday’s paper, as well as a dandy dozen feature on Eli Stove, so here are a few items I didn’t get to in those — for space and relevancy reasons — what went right, what went not so right, and what it means.
What went right
- Shi’Kim Coward was strong in his season debut. His numbers aren’t going to pop off the page by any means, particularly when stacked up against Clay-Chalkville counterparts Tyrrell Pigrome and Terrelle West, who combined for 346 yards and four touchdowns on just 31 carries (11.2 yards per carry). But Coward finished with 76 yards on 14 carries, busting out two 15-yard runs and an 11-yarder. Nothing spectacular, but against a massive Clay-Chalkville line while Colby Tuthill and Drew Frederic struggled a bit at quarterback, it was solid.
- Pressuring the quarterback. Pigrome rarely had a comfortable pocket from which to throw. He was perpetually hurried or hit in the backfield, which forced him to scramble or find receivers breaking back off their routes. In retrospect, maybe this wasn’t such a good thing, as Pigrome proved a more than capable scrambler — “he looked like a tailback,” Niceville coach John Hicks said — and wound up doing far more damage with his feet than his arm. But for teams with more pocket-friendly quarterbacks, Niceville could provide a host of issues.
- Conversions. The Eagles went 2-2 on their two-point conversions — both Colby Tuthill passes — and didn’t miss an extra point. It may seem like a small positive, but those add up.
What went wrong
- Tackling. It wouldn’t matter if the Denver Broncos sent out their offensive line — any team that puts up 414 yards on the ground off of just 47 carries is getting help from the defense. Pigrome and West were constantly breaking tackles or simply avoiding them altogether, which leads us into point No. 2...
- The Big Play. Niceville picked up more first downs and ran more plays than Clay-Chalkville. How does this happen to a team that lost by three touchdowns? Allowing the big play. The Cougars scored touchdowns of 51, 44, 15, 84, 49, and 35 yards. On two of their possessions they scored on their first play, and two more touchdowns came on drives of five plays or less, hence the absurd average of 11.63 yards per play.
- Getting the ball in Eli Stove’s hands. Not including kick returns, Stove touched the ball just five times, and he averaged 17.6 yards per touch — 4 receptions, 1 carry. Obviously that average is skewed by his 63-yard touchdown, but that’s one of his greatest assets: the ability to break it loose.
What it means
Well, precisely nothing. It was a regular season game, sure, and you always want to win, but it was against an out of state opponent and will have exactly zero bearing on playoff hopes. Basically, this was a glorified exhibition against a supremely talented football team.
If anything, Niceville should benefit tremendously from the loss, having now seen what it needs to work on in a real game situation against an opponent of equal or higher caliber than any the Eagles will see this season.
So, no, not much reason to worry, unless of course you’re Rutherford, and now you have to open your season against a pissed off Niceville team.