The game could have turned on the events of the first quarter, when Hanson took the game’s opening possession down the field, eating up most of the quarter, only to fumble on a fourth-down conversion attempt near the red zone.
The Eagles took over and scored in eight plays and less than three minutes on a 53-yard run by Lloyd Grogan.
“I don’t think the (conversion failure) was a big factor,” Tiger coach Richard Sandusky said. “We built a lot of confidence, even though we didn’t score. We felt we could move the ball on them, and we followed that game plan.”
He added, however, “A score there could have been big.”
Both teams had their problems to overcome. Hanson players couldn’t hang onto the ball, losing three fumbles on the night; Central lost one fumble. Central Catholic racked up 10 penalties, costing the team 120 yards; Hanson had six penalties for 39 yards.
When all was said and done, however, it came down to Sandusky’s astute defensive analysis: “We couldn’t get the big stop when we needed it.”
The Eagles were forced to punt only once. Besides the fumble, the rest of the Central drives ended with touchdowns, and big plays factored into most of those drives.
The Grogan run launched the Eagles on their way, but there were more plays like that in store. Grogan hauled in a 44-yard pass from Josh Singleton on the second scoring drive to set up the touchdown. Dontrell Brown was just 1 yard shy of scoring on a 94-yard pass on the third scoring drive.
On the only drive that led to an Eagle punt, a 72-yard scoring pass to Tyler Hoffpauir was called back on one of those big penalties, a block in the back. The next drive included a 28-yard pass to Brown and a 35-yard scoring run by Grogan, who reeled off a 42-yard scoring run on the only play of the next drive — which came after one of Hanson’s fumbles.
“Our plan was to get out in the lead early,” Eagles coach David Fuhrer said. “We knew Hanson had some talented running backs. We knew they’d hit us with the run, and they did.”
The Tigers didn’t get huge yards on any one play on their first drive — the longest play was 13 yards — but they did march steadily downfield, taking the first 10 minutes of the game off the clock while attempting only one pass.
That’s not to say Hanson didn’t get its own big plays, but most of them came in the second half. One that didn’t came at the very end of the first half, and exemplified Lady Luck’s fickleness on the evening.
On an untimed down following a penalty on Central for illegal participation, Hanson’s Collin Broussard broke loose for what looked like it might be a touchdown run. However, Broussard was chased down from behind and tackled at the Central 11-yard line, preventing the Tigers from drawing a touchdown closer than 21-6 at halftime.
Once play resumed, bigger-yardage plays picked up for the Tigers. The second Tiger drive included a 44-yard run by Broussard and a 35-yard scoring pass from Drake Rodriguez to Chase Businelle. The final scoring drive, on the Tigers’ final possession, was another big pass to Businelle for 48 yards, the only play of the drive.
Hanson outrushed the Eagles, 278 yards to 239, but the Tiger passing attack was almost doubled by Central, 213 yards to 107.
Broussard got the lion’s share of the rushing yardage, leading all running backs with 195 yards on 19 attempts for the Tigers. The rest of the yardage went to Beau Ancona, 34 yards on 10 attempts; Kole Fluke, 22 yards on six attempts; Broc Buckner, 16 yards on five attempts; Rodriguez, 6 yards on four attempts; and Haden Judice, 5 yards on two carries. Rodriguez had four completions for all 107 yards passing, all of which went to Businelle.
For the Eagles, Grogan rolled up 167 yards rushing on nine carries, along with 64 yards receiving on two catches. Brown had only 5 yards rushing on two carries, but caught three passes for 125 yards. Singleton recorded 30 yards rushing on nine carries and 213 yards passing, completing 10 of 15 attempts.
Jovon Johnson was the only other Eagle with rushing yardage, getting 37 yards on five carries. Hoffpauir caught two passes for 15 yards, and Lamar Grogan had one catch for 9 yards.
Both teams are likely headed for the playoffs, but first there’s one week of the regular season left. Both teams will host in the final week, with Hanson entertaining Gueydan and Central welcoming Vermilion Catholic.
“Gueydan has a good back with well over 1,000 yards,” Sandusky said. “He’s a big part of their offense, the one that makes them go. We’ve got to keep him bottled up. We’ll have a challenge next week.”
Vermilion Catholic, second in the 1A power rankings this year, was young and talented last year, “and I’m not surprised they’ve done well this year,” Fuhrer said. “They’re a very good team.”