By RICK HEAD Sports Editor
Ware County head coach Franklin Stephens and his staff emphasized the importance of discipline all week. At times the discipline was good Friday night. At times it was bad, and there were times it was ugly during the ninth-ranked Gators 25-6 win night over visiting Jonesboro.
“We did a pretty good job on our first two drives,” Stephens said of the two early touchdowns. “We had some dropped balls later and turned the ball over with a fumble. And, we had too many penalties. We have got to be disciplined and be consistent. That’s what I, and the staff, want to see.
“We’re right there. Good teams, ones that make deep playoff runs, are the ones that play each play with consistency and they play hard. We’re playing hard. We’re (coaches) trying to get the players to visualize what they are playing for down the road (playoffs). We’re four weeks into the season and we (coaches) are continuously addressing some of the same issues.”
Some of the good was the two-headed rushing attack of Dream Gainer (16 carries, 134 yards) and Thomas Castellanos (12 carries, 83 yards) in the first half. The pair combined for all 187 yards on the ground in the first 24 minutes. Castellanos scored on runs of 17, nine and three yards and added a two-point conversion helping the Gators to a 22-0 lead at the break.
The freshman quarterback, who suffered an injury with 6:25 to play in the third quarter, completed 5-of-9 passes for 79 yards. Three passes were dropped, two coming on potential touchdowns in the end zone.
“I thought Castellanos threw some good balls,” said Stephens. “Unfortunately, we had some drops. There are certain things you have to do to help your quarterback. First, you’ve got to protect the quarterback. Second, the receivers have to get off the line of scrimmage. Third, the quarterback has to go through his reads. Fourth, you have to catch the ball when it’s thrown your way. We did three of the four things.”
Defensively, the undersized Ware County front stood tall allowing the Cardinals’ offense just 171 total yards. Jonesboro managed a paltry 44 yards rushing on 23 attempts and 127 yards through the air.
“We came at them (Cardinals) with some different combinations (blitzes) that involved our inside and outside linebackers,” said Stephens. “We had some missed assignments, though, where we were out of position. It just comes down to simple execution.”
Jonesboro quarterback Tremir Alexis completed 17-of-30 passes with only five going for gains of 12 yards or more. Many were quick bubble screens at the line of scrimmage with three of the completions losing yardage.
“We had to keep the ball in front of us,” Stephens said. “They (Cardinals) have some athletic guys who can make big plays.”
The Gators’ offense had Jonesboro’s defense on its heels during the opening methodical 10-play, 92-yard touchdown drive utilizing 3:56 of the clock. Castellanos, who completed both passes in the possession, and Gainer equally split the the eight running plays.
A 12-yard completion to Chris Jones on a third-and-six kick started the drive. The pair would hook up on a 39-yard completion four plays later that moved the ball to the Jonesboro 23.
Castellanos scored three plays later rambling 17 yards for the score on a third-and-four. Ware County converted on five of its first six third down plays. Castellanos ran in the two-point conversion on the old “swinging gate” formation for an 8-0 lead.
“Being methodical is when you can run the ball, make first downs, keep the clock running and the ball away from your opponent,” Stephens said of the opening drive. “That’s what we want to do — limit our opponents’ opportunities.”
Following a defensive stop on Jonesboro’s second possession, the Gators marched 74 yards in five plays using just 1:51 of clock time for a 15-0 advantage.
A personal foul against the Cardinals helped the drive along. That was followed on the ensuing snap by a 53-yard gallop by Gainer down to the Jonesboro two.
After an 11-yard holding penalty backed the ball out to Cardinals’ 13, Castellanos kept on an option play left for four yards and an option play right for nine yards and the score with 2:28 remaining in the first period. Robert Jacobs tacked on the PAT.
Ware County was unable to capitalize on Ken Standley’s fumble recovery just before the first quarter ended. Just 33 yards away from a third touchdown, the Gators turned the ball over on downs on the second play of the second quarter. Castellanos’s pass went just off the outstretched finger tips of the intended receiver in the end zone on fourth-and-eight.
A three-and-out by Jonesboro was followed by the Gators’ lone turnover of the night near midfield. The Cardinals could not cash in after reaching the Ware County 12. A 34-yard field goal attempt by Fernando Lobo, who made two kicks a week earlier, sailed wide left.
Ware County then put together a second methodical drive with a 11-play, 80-yard march in 4:02 getting the final touchdown of the night from Castellanos.
Gainer kept the drive alive with a 21-yard gain three plays in on a third-and-short. Castellanos raced 20 yards on a third-and-seven three plays later to the Jonesboro 27.
A 15-yard burst by Gainer followed on the ensuing snap. Castellanos would carry on the final three plays scoring on a fourth-and-one from three yards out. Jacobs split the uprights for a 22-0 lead with 2:02 to play in the half.
The halftime show, though, was worth the price of admission. Ware County’s band provided its usual solid performance before giving way to Jonesboro, which had fans screaming with its dancing antics. The home crowd clapped and cheered the visiting band as it exited the playing surface.
Ware County’s opening drive of the second half ended with a missed 35-yard field goal attempt. Jeremiah O’Hara’s 39-yard return of the kick set the Gators up at their own 46. Ware County moved the ball to the Cardinals’ eight before a holding penalty stalled the drive.
Following a quick three-and-out by Jonesboro and a 14-yard punt, the Gators took advantage of the short field on their second possession though it was costly. Castellanos had to be helped off the field after running for six yards on the second play. He did not return.
Five plays later, Ware County lost big offensive tackle Stevie Stewart to a leg injury while pulling on a quarterback counter with 3:31 remaining in the period. Stewart, in severe pain, was carted off the field to a waiting ambulance and taken to the hospital.
Jacobs was called on for a 24-yard field goal with 2:43 on the clock pushing the lead out to 25-0.
Jonesboro was unable to mount any offense on its next two possessions with the second ending with a pass interception by DeMarco Gibson. The Gators did likewise with three-and-outs on consecutive possessions.
The Cardinals followed Ware County’s last three-and-out with a 14-play, 68-yard scoring drive eating up 5:15 off the fourth quarter clock. The Gators were flagged four times (10 total for the game) in the possession, three times inside the red zone to help prolong the series.
Jonesboro eventually scored on a three-yard run by Kendaris Hillman with 2:49 to play. Lobo kicked the PAT for the final margin.
Ware County will get next week off before returning to face visiting Glynn Academy on September 21.
“We’re going to focus on fundamentals next week,” said Stephens. “We’re going to work on tackling, blocking and fixing us. It’s something we (coaches) stress day-in and day-out.
“That’s what separates good teams from the better teams. Right now we are a good team, but we’re running out of opportunities to be a better team. The better teams have a unique way of being focused on every play.”
(see XXX, page 7)