CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Royals were relentless on their senior night as they opened with 28 unanswered points on the way to a 35-12 defeat of Edinburgh to end the season at 4-5, Eastern Hancock’s best regular-season record since the Royals went 6-3 in 2005.
“We jumped on them in the first half and did a good job executing the things we worked on in practice,” EH Coach Pat Echeverria said. “The second half we let a couple points stay off the board, didn’t finish a couple drives and defensively we gave up a couple big plays.
“All-in-all I thought we played a good game.”
EH made a statement at the start, when sophomore Derrik Noel took the opening kickoff 82 yards to give the Royals a 7-0 lead.
“It’s funny that happened tonight,” Echeverria said. “One of the first things I said to the team was, ‘let’s make a big special teams play tonight.’ It kind of got us going and shocked them a little bit and I think we were able to ride that into a good first half.”
When the offense took its first possession, it was Spencer Gilbert crossing the goal line on a 3-yard run, making it a 14-point lead.
“I ran hard tonight,” Gilbert said. “Coming into the game, I knew Edinburgh was a big, strong team and I knew I had to step it up.”
During this drive and on ones later in the game, penalties on the offense nullified big plays by the Royals.
“When big plays get called back, obviously there is a little frustration, but if I didn’t have those blockers I would not get a yard.” Gilbert said. “If there’s a couple missed plays, it is not a big deal to me.”
The Royals offense was flagged eight times during the game for a total of 75 yards.
“I can live with a couple holding penalties and things like that,” Echeverria said. “Our kids played hard and got their hands outside and they called a few holding penalties. As long as out kids are giving a good effort, we will just coach them up to keep their hands inside and not pull them to the ground.”
In their only penalty-free drive of the first half, the Royals drove 74 yards on six plays to take a commanding 21-0 lead when Cooper Henderson took the handoff and ran 4 yards for the touchdown.
The defense played well the entire first half, and stepped up as senior Sam Novick sacked Lancer quarterback Sammy Wilkerson to end an Edinburgh drive with just under five minutes left in the half.
“I got a blitz, I just ran in there to try to full up the hole,” Novick said. “I saw him scramble and chased him down and got him.”
With 4:46 left to halftime, EH called a mix of run and pass plays on a drive that was capped off by a Logan Splater to Gilbert 29-yard touchdown strike with 36 seconds left to give EH a 28-0 halftime lead.
After both teams punted on their opening drives to start the third quarter, it took the Lancers 1:38 to drive 49 yards on five plays to put their first points on the board via a Wilkerson 1-yard run. A missed extra point made it 28-6.
Echeverria said the two big things that hurt the Royals Friday night were screen passes and Wilkerson, as the Lancers quarterback scrambled outside the pocket, leading to a coverage breakdown in the Royals defense.
“That is something we worked on a lot this week,” Echeverria said. “They execute that very well and they have a couple good athletes that find their way through traffic.”
It was those plays that led to Edinburgh adding a touchdown in the fourth quarter to draw within 16.
On the next possession, the Royals ate up over three and a half minutes off the clock driving down the field, concluding with a 13-yard touchdown catch by Austin Smith to get to the final score of 35-12.
After the Smith touchdown, Echeverria called on senior lineman Jake Hicks to kick the extra point.
“Jake works extremely hard on that,” the coach said, “and I wanted to reward him with that on senior night with a chance to score a point. He has worked for the last two years on that. He is a very solid kicker. I would have no problem putting him in to kick all our extra points, except Cooper Henderson is a really good kicker.”
Suited up for their last regular-season home game, Echeverria called this gang of seniors special.
“This senior group has been through a lot of rough times,” Echeverria said. “My thing to them was what kind of legacy are they going to leave. I think they have left our program better than they found it.”
Like many of the Royals’ games this season, play was dominated by the running game as EH rushed for 261 yard on 43 carries. Gilbert led the way with 160 yards on the ground, but said he could not gain a yard without his line.
“The offensive line was solid,” Gilbert said. “There’s nobody I would rather have blocking for me than them. Through thick and thin they have been there. They executed well tonight.”
Eastern Hancock plays host to the Hagerstown Tigers on Friday at 7 p.m. for the opening round of the IHSAA sectional playoffs.
“We have the potential (to play well),” Novick said. “We just have to show it and do good in the second season.”