ELIZABETH — In a single play last Friday, the Elizabeth football team saw it’s hopes for it’s first victory of the season be blown away.
Elizabeth, leading 12-7 with 5 minutes left in the game on its home field was forced to punt to visiting Discovery Canyon. But following a short incomplete pass by quarterback Alec Wirtjes from the Thunder’s 31-yard line, the Cardinals let the game get away.
On the next play Discovery Canyon’s Alex Weber broke through for a 69-yard touchdown run, going virtually untouched in the process. And after a two-point conversion run by Scott Betzer, the nights’ scoring was complete. The Thunder would depart with a 15-12 victory, improving their record to 3-0 in the non-league game. The Cardinals dropped to 0-3.
“We made mistakes and they were able to take advantage,” said Elizabeth coach Chris Cline. “But our guys played tough and I’m proud of that. It was close for us to almost break through and hats off the DC. We came close and we are going to get better, and we are getting better. I think we’re going to be fine when league gets started.”
Elizabeth had taken its 12-7 lead with 9:12 left in the game on an 8-yard run by Jordan Buchnam. However, the try for the two-point conversion failed on the Cardinals pass play.
The first half ended in a scoreless tie, but was broken with 5:04 left in the third period when Discovery Canyon’s Steve Turner capped a nine-play drive with a 5-yard run. Grace Adams, one of the few girls playing football in the state this season, tacked on the extra point.
Elizabeth only needed three plays to respond, scoring its first touchdown as quarterback Brody Oliver connected with Chase Nicholas for a 78-yard strike with 3:42 on the clock. The try for point failed.
“Hats off to them,” said Oliver, who passed for 147 yards and a touchdown. “It was the little mistakes that killed up tonight. We’ll come back at practice and we will do a lot better. We know we can do it. We do have the team that can get the job done.”
Oliver also connected on a fine 32-yard pass to Bucknam on the Cardinals third play of the fourth quarter that carried to the Discovery Canyon 15-yard line. Seven more yards via Nicholas put the ball at the 8, thus setting up Bucknam’s score and the short-lived lead for the Cardinals.
“There was just a couple of things that didn’t go well for us,” said Bucknam, who rush for 18 yards and caught three passes for 43. “The key against us was a sluggish start in the beginning. The first half we played well. On that one play, (Weber) broke away - and credit him as it was a fine run. We played great at times, but we certainly need a lot more consistency.”
Added Nicholas: “We played good defense, but that one long run really hurt us. It was so close tonight, but it was the little things on defense that made a difference. That long run turned into being a big mistake.”
The defensive effort by Elizabeth was not all that shabby for the most part. The Cardinals only allowed Wirtjes to complete four-of-11 passes for 24 yards. And, if you take away Weber’s touchdown run, the Thunder only managed and additional 62-yards on the ground.
Elizabeth had two more opportunities with the ball, but neither drive netted more than a single yard as Discovery Canyon’s defense took over.
Weber also had a sigh of relief.
“I had great blocks and was not touched all the way to the end zone,” Weber said. “We didn’t seem to be getting the job done in the first half and in the second half we started hitting. But they are a good team and they played us tough.”
Wirtjes, who was also sacked three times, was far from pleased with his passing and his scant 24-yards rushing on 15 attempts.
“It was the defense that kept us in the game,” Wirtjes said. “They are the toughest opponent that we have faced so far as they are a fine team. We needed to get the ball up and down the field and we were having trouble moving against them. But that certainly was a fine run by Alex.”
And, it brought a sigh of relief to Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell.
“Whew, that was a little close for comfort,” Mitchell said. “This was the hardest fought game for us so far and what a great run by Alex. We had two starters out, a fullback and halfback, but our defense really stepped up for us and that was the difference. This was the hardest fought game we’ve had so far. But credit their defense as they played us tough.”