By Colin Harris | Staff Writer
If you can learn a lot about a football team by how it performs when its backs are to the wall, then first-year Minerva head coach Mike Hall is already an expert on his squad.
Minerva topped host Field 21-14 in a non-conference season opener Friday night, and if any one series defined the game, it was the Lions' gritty performance on its own goal line early in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied and a rocking home crowd on Field's side, Hall's defense made four consecutive stops from inside the three to keep the Falcons out of the end zone.
On 1st-and-goal from the three, Field quarterback Preston Semler carried the ball down to the Minerva one-yard line. On second down, fullback Levi Lowden plowed into the line, but was stopped for no gain.
Semler tried again on third down, but was dropped for a one-yard loss by defender Dalton Hartshorn -- setting up a decisive fourth-down play for the Falcons.
While Field called a timeout to get its offense together, Hall said he had a simple message to his gassed defensive unit: stick together.
"We were sloppy with penalties tonight, so we talked to our guys about watching the ball, staying square and just puling together," Hall said. "We preach to our guys about being a family and sticking together, and they played for each other (on the defensive stand)."
With one last shot to get it in, Field again fed Lowden, who was stuffed at the one-yard line for no gain and a turnover on downs.
Field head coach Matt Furino said following the game that there was no debate on what call he was going to make on that final possession.
"We went with two of our biggest guys on the left side in Macklin Coleman and our best runner in Levi Lowden," Furino said. "What it comes down to is we had four chances to get that ball in, and we were stopped by a good team."
While their players were cramping all over the field on a hot Friday evening, Minerva had enough gas left in the tank for one more major defensive play.
Later in the fourth, with the ball at their own 32 and the score still tied at 14-14, Semler dropped back to attempt a pass across the middle to Coleman. The pass was off its mark, however, and Minerva's Billy Eyer dove forward to snatch the ball before it could hit the turf.
While officials initially ruled the pass an incompletion, the far side judge came over to overrule the initial call and award Minerva the ball.
With momentum firmly on its side, Minerva running back Cody Parrish ripped off a 16-yard run, followed by a 12-yard touchdown run that put the Lions ahead for good.
Parrish had a big evening for Minerva, leading all rushers with 123 yards on 13 carries and one TD. He had a long run of 54 yards.
All told, the Minerva defense forced three turnovers against the Field offense -- two interceptions and a fumble. Parrish and Eyer tied for a team-high with four tackles, while Josey Riley and Harrison Hoppel each made three stops and combined for a sack.
Where the Lions defense struggled at times was in containing Semler, as the Falcons QB finished 11-of-26 passing for 145 yards and one TD to go with his two interceptions. Caleb Wohlwent was the major beneficiary of Semler's arm, hauling in four passes for 69 yards. Coleman also finished with three catches for 40 yards and a TD.
Where the junior QB was most effective was when a play broke down, as the nimble Semler scrambled for 89 yards on 16 carries with one TD.
The same could not be said for the Falcons' stable of running backs, as the Field run game totaled just 54 yards on 20 carries outside of Semler's effort.
Furino said that, while he was happy with the effort his team showed in its season debut, the final score and his team's missed opportunities show that there is room for improvement.
"We got into some things where it was the first week of the season for us, and we had some miscues (offensively)," Furino said. "We had our chances tonight."
Facebook: Colin Harris, Record-Courier