For The Daily Reporter
FOUNTAIN CITY — Both Eastern Hancock and Northeastern graduated multiple program standouts after the 2014 season saw the two schools split two games last season.
Eastern Hancock, however, took the first step in creating new memories with a 33-7 opening-night win Friday punctuated by a number of highlight-reel plays on offense to go with a stifling defense.
To start the game, the Royals were gifted a fumble recovery on the 18-yard line after the opening kickoff and capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown run by Devin Denny to take a 7-0 lead.
After a punt pinned the Royals back on the 5-yard line, halfback A.J. Muegge was tossed the ball, but it was a trick play. Muegge hit wide-open receiver Austin Smith in stride 35 yards down the field, and he ran it in the rest of the way for a 95-yard touchdown to lead 13-0.
Smith would finish the game with seven receptions for 193 yards receiving.
“We installed that play in practice yesterday,” Eastern Hancock coach Jim O’Hara said. “With us being pinned back, you might not expect a play like that, so it was a great play call by (offensive coordinator) Randy Albano.”
Northeastern would use their running game to get the score back to 13-7 with a 3-yard touchdown run by Petey McDaniel and 1:31 remaining in the first quarter. But that is as close as they would get.
Facing a third-and-24 and time dwindling in the half, Royal senior Matt Bowman made an acrobatic one-handed catch to gain 40 yards that led to another touchdown for Denny.
Denny would finish with three total touchdowns on the night, to make the score 19-7 at halftime.
“After the first quarter our defense really stepped up,” O’Hara stated. “We don’t have many big guys, but we have speed, and (defensive coordinator) Clayton Shultz called a great game as well.”
Leading the way for the Royals on defense was senior defensive back Owen Hunt, who had 20 tackles, according to O’Hara. The Eastern Hancock defense and special teams also forced five fumbles, recovering two.
“Both teams lost a lot of skill players from last year’s teams, so we knew things could get a little sloppy,” said O’Hara.
Looking forward to next week, O’Hara stated: “I love practice because coaches have the control, and we can really focus on getting better from here.”