Squaring off against an opponent riding a nine game winning streak and playing on its home field might intimidate most teams, but not the J. Taylor Finley Middle School eighth grade football squad.
Finley used an explosive offense and scrappy defense to come from behind and claim its third consecutive victory without a loss, toppling undefeated Candlewood, 41-27.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Finley running back Nasir Youngblood scooted 65 yards for the Falcons’ first score. Placekick Kyle Green, who doubles as a lineman, booted the ball through the uprights for an additional two points and Finley had itself an 8-0 lead.
Finley-8 football head coach Ron Wilson.
Candlewood quickly responded by marching 65 yards in four plays and converted the extra point on a running play to pull within a point at 8-7. On the Falcon’s next possession, Jason Turner ran a dive play for three yards and then Youngblood hit the corner on the next snap for yet another touchdown to give Finley a 14-7 advantage.
Candlewood’s offense continued to exploit the Falcons’ defense, which struggled for much of the game. “The Colt’s running backs were big, fast and just as talented as ours,” said Ron Wilson, Finley’s head coach. “They went right down field on us and scored their second touchdown, tying the game at 14 at the end of the first quarter.”
Finley fumbled twice in the second quarter and the Colts capitalized on one of them to score a go-ahead touchdown for a 20-14 halftime lead. The third quarter saw Finley become more aggressive, but Candlewood was done scoring.
On a third and long play the Colts’ running back slipped out of the hands of three Falcon tacklers for a first down. On the very next play, Candlewood scored on a long pass into the end zone followed by a running conversion. Trailing 27-14 against an undefeated team, the situation looked bleak for Finley.
But, Wilson is an eternal optimist and along with assistant coach James Byrnes, Jr, he encouraged his squad to battle back. The Falcons did just that, responding with an air attack and some sparkling running by Youngblood, who scored another touchdown for Finley and cut the deficit to 27-20.
Cornerback Kyeon Lyons contributed to Finley’s comeback by intercepting a pass to stop a Candlewood drive and returning the ball to the 40 yard line. Falcon fullback Mekai Butts reached the end zone a short time later and quarterback, Frank Chirico found receiver Alex Bellissimo open for the extra point conversion, which tied the game at 27-27.
Finley’s defense stepped up and forced the Colts to turn the ball over on downs. Once the Falcons had the ball back they turned to Lyons, who sprinted 42 yards for a touchdown to give Finley a 33-27 lead.
Finley’s defense was challenged in the final minutes as Candlewood tried to mount a comeback, but outside linebacker Chad Rowe, Jr. made an exceptional play when he picked off a pass thrown into the flats.
“Chad intercepted the throw with one arm,” Wilson said. “What an unbelievable catch he made!” Rowe ran 29 yards before finally being brought down. On the next play, Youngblood carried the ball seven yards for Finley’s final touchdown of the game. Green followed with a two-point conversion kick to put Finley ahead, 41-27.
“The Falcons played an unbelievable game,” Wilson said. “They were so nervous at the very beginning that they lined up on the wrong side of the field. They had lost to this team twice last year and every year before that. They were a very happy and exhausted team when it was over. We had several key athletes who were out due to sickness. We had to play athletes in positions they normally don’t play. Coach Byrnes did an awesome job putting kids in the right place to get the best out of them. This was a great win, but more than that, it was a team win because we had individuals step up and have the game of their young lives. If the team could have picked him up, they would have carried Mekai Butts high in the air. He had an awesome game on both sides of the ball. He was definitely the MVP of this game.”
Falcon Notes: Jason Turner recorded seven tackles, including one for a loss and he recovered a fumble . . . Youngblood rushed five times for 147 yards and four touchdowns . . . Rowe made six tackles, including three for a loss and he had an interception . . . Butts had five tackles, including one for a loss . . . Liam Hassett made four tackles . . . Lyons rushed four times for 48 yards and a touchdown . . . Rowe carried twice for 33 yards . . . Belissimo, Green, Youngblood, Lyons, Harrison Cozine and Trevan Meagher all made three tackles . . . Lyons added an interception . . . One of Meagher’s tackles went for a loss . . . Vincent Vilardi, Cameron Santa Maria and Torin Bograd had two tackles each . . . Bograd went one-for-two passing for 13 yards and he rushed once for an 18 yard gain . . . Chirico carried twice for 17 yards and he also made a tackle.