SMYRNA – The Stewarts Creek Red Hawks were nearly their own worst enemy Friday night against the Mt. Juliet Golden Bears. Several personal foul calls nearly cost the Red Hawks the game, but they pulled through to top Mt. Juliet 19-14 on a last-minute touchdown drive.
“I wasn’t happy overall with how we played tonight, but happy we got the win,” Stewarts Creek coach Bert Browne said.
Stewarts Creek nearly scored on its opening drive with quarterback Johnnie Simmons working with tail back Savion Davis and receiver Alex Krenk. The Red Hawk momentum was short lived, however, after MJ running back Conlin Baggott carried in a 44-yard touchdown to give the Golden Bears an early lead.
The game became a war of attrition for Mt. Juliet as injuries piled up, forcing plays to be changed on the fly.
“Wide receiver Osize Daniyan stepped in and played like the moment wasn’t too big for him,” Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said. “(I was also) proud of center Brandon Harper coming in after an injury.”
The Red Hawks took full advantage of an inexperienced and injured Golden Bears squad, when Davis found the end zone in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to just one.
“Eighteen new starters and two injuries in the first quarter meant a lot of new faces in critical situations,” Perry added. “We had a chance to put the game in our hands early in the second quarter and didn’t do it.”
As halftime neared, Stewarts Creek drove down to a first-and-goal situation. However, the Mt. Juliet defense came up strong, stalling each attempt and blocking Red Hawk Upton Bellefant’s kick to send the teams into the locker room with MJ clutching a 7-6 lead.
“I felt like we should have had 21 points in the first half,” Browne said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and I told the kids we stopped ourselves.”
Amari Jelks kept the Stewarts Creek fans cheering with an easy touchdown set up by linebacker Carson Smith, who intercepted a pass from Messenger on the Golden Bears 25-yard line. After Bellefant’s extra point, Stewarts Creek held its first lead 13-7.
“Amari is pure speed,” Browne said. “He’s not very big, so he’s hard to see behind the line. When he finds the hole though, he’s the best we got on capitalizing.”
Messenger responded, driving Mt. Juliet down the field for a score to give the Golden Bears a 14-13 lead and take the wind out of the Red Hawk sails.
Stewarts Creek was hit with 45 yards in penalties for two unsportsmanlike conducts and a roughing the kicker call. However, Sam Slaughter was determined not to let those mistakes cost his team the game, as he hammered his way into the end zone with three minutes left to seal the 19-14 upset win.
“Personal fouls are not my football team,” Browne said. “I don’t condone it and don’t want to see it. It’s unacceptable and will be addressed on Monday.”
On other end of the field, Perry plans to work with the Golden Bears to help them understand the difference between playing hurt and playing injured.
“It’s hard enough to beat a good Stewarts Creek squad when you are playing against yourself,” Perry added.