GREENFIELD — Emotions engulfed both sidelines at Clayton Myers Field on Friday night. Greenfield-Central’s Jaden Brown, however, kept his focus throughout and especially late.
With the visiting Eastern Hancock Royals attempting to rally back from a two touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, Brown put his foot down with both hands raised.
Shadowing Royals quarterback Jarett Lewis’ eyes, the Greenfield-Central junior leaped up and tipped an interception to himself with just over a two minutes remaining to help seal the season opener for the Cougars 28-14.
“I just saw the receiver break. They had run the play, I think two plays before that,” Brown remarked on his pick as the Royals faced first-and-10 from the Cougars’ 11-yard line. “As soon as I saw the quarterback turn around and look at him, and saw the receiver break, I broke with him.”
The play highlighted a frustrating second half for the Cougars, who led 21-14 at halftime, but like the Royals struggled in to find consistency on offense in the final 24 minutes.
The Cougars, who were playing their first official football game on the field’s new turf surface, and came out strong to make their intentions known.
The Cougars struck from all angles on offense in the first half, converting between the tackles and over the top, nearly scoring on their first four drives.
Efficiency was the key during Greenfield-Central’s opening possession. The Cougars used six plays to go 48 yards after a slick onside kick recovery set the offense up with a shorter field.
Quarterback Andrew Leslie capped the drive with an 11-yard dagger to Mike Hoskins for a touchdown to finalize their 2 minute, 20 second possession.
Eastern Hancock responded immediately on their opening drive after another onside-kick attempt by Greenfield-Central failed. Starting from the Cougars’ 47, the Royals powered through a 12-play scoring drive, capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to A.J. Muegge.
The duo would connect again late in the second quarter as Lewis found Muegge for a 25-yard touchdown to cut Greenfield-Central’s lead to 21-14.
Lewis finished the 208 yards passing on 14 completions with two touchdowns, but he also tossed four interceptions — two in the second half. Muegge had 114 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The Royals were playing with a heavy heart in Week 1 after the death of senior Riley Settergren in a tragic car accident last month. Fans on both sides of the stadium wore white T-shirts commemorating Riley’s memory with is No. 30 on the back, while a moment of silence was conducted prior to kickoff for Settergren.
“A lot of emotions. I’m proud of the kids. We’ve had a rough 23 days, but they fought and they gave everything they got,” Eastern Hancock head coach Jim O’Hara said. “We made a lot of mistakes. A lot of penalties and turnovers, but give Greenfield a lot of credit. They were better than us. It’s the first game. We’ll get better.”
The Royals turned the ball over four times in the second half, but the Cougars had their mishaps with three turnovers in the second half and four overall.
Leslie passed for 144 yards and a touchdown and an interception. The running game and defense also shined with Braden Brown rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
His first score measured at 21 yards in the first quarter to put the Cougars up 14-7. He barreled for a 15-yard score in the second quarter.
The Cougars final touchdown went to senior Orlando Mojica win the fourth quarter with a 5-yard run to cap a 10-play drive. It proved an insurance score as the Royals tried to fight back.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone do that before,” Greenfield-Central head coach Adam Sherman remarked on Jaden Brown’s pick. “He made a play. We took the cuffs off of him at practice and he caps the game off.”