The Greyhounds’ defense held Etowah to 244 total yards, intercepted a pass that led directly to one of three touchdowns and held on a critical third- and fourth-down plays in Pope’s 20-17 overtime win at the Pope Multisport Complex.
Greyhounds’ quarterback Stephen Skruck scored the game-winner on fourth-and-goal 1-yard plunge.
“We will take it any way that we can get it,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said of the team’s first win of the season. “(Etowah is) a good football team, and our kids came in here and played lights out. They took advantage of their opportunities when we had them offensively. That defensive effort was just outstanding. I was very happy for our guys.
“They really did (step up). That was our focus all week. (It) was not to worry about the end, just go out there and play hard and let everything else take care of itself.”
While it was the defense that kept the previously winless Greyhounds (1-2) in the game, it was Pope’s offense that earned the glory despite finishing with just 126 total yards. After forcing Etowah (1-2) to kick a field goal on its first possession in overtime, the Greyhounds’ offense earned a first down by way of a 6-yard pass from Skruck to Logan Carr at the Etowah 5.
Ronnie Woods, who scored Pope’s lone touchdown in the second half on a 25-yard run, then carried the ball 4 yards to the Etowah 1. After the Eagles’ defense stuffed Pope on running plays up the middle, the Greyhounds were left with a decision to make.
For Kemper, it was down to what his offense wanted to do. If Pope kicked a field goal, the game would continue. But the Greyhounds could decide the game in one play by moving the ball just 1 yard. There was little question as to whether or not Pope was going to play for the win.
“It was just, ‘What do you guys want?,”’ Kemper said. “(The offense) wanted to run the (quarterback) sneak, and they wanted to get down and dirty up front. Those two big ol’ guards came off the football and got her in.”
After being stopped short on consecutive plays though, combined with Pope having few successful offensive drives, there was an opportunity for the team to feel some apprehension. However, if it was present, then it wasn’t at the forefront of its quarterback’s mind.
“We just had to work through that,” Skruck said. “Over the past few weeks, we had them working on goal-line stuff a ton, and we weren’t going to let it happen any more. We were determined to get in the end zone through hard work and all of that.”
On the next play, Skruck took the snap from under center, after playing much of the game out of the shotgun via the pistol formation, buried his head and shoulder pads behind the left guard and pushed his way into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Still, it was hard to deny the impact that the defense had on the game’s final result.
“We ran to the football with a lot of intensity and played through the whistle,” Kemper said. “Those guys are physical. They are a tough football team, and they’re well coached. Our kids stepped up and played that way, too.”
While Kemper was quick to congratulate his defense as a whole, including pass deflections on deep passes in the secondary and the defensive line getting penetration to limit Etowah’s running game forcing the Eagles’ offense into third-and-long situations, he did single out the effort of one player.
“We moved Brooks Climmons over there (from running back to linebacker), and he’s a leader,” Kemper said. “He’s our team captain. He’s a heck of a football player, so he jumps to mind.”