CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock, the defending Class A State Runner-ups, were on the wrong end of a massive reality check Friday night.
Outgained by 186 yards. Five turnovers. Worst loss in nearly three years.
With inexperienced players all over the field and a coach in his first game, the Royals found out they have a lot of learning to do.
The heavy dose of humble pie – a 34-6 loss to Class A No. 16 Northeastern – came from a Knight squad that blew a 15-point second-half lead to EH at home in last year’s sectional final. They had waited over nine months for their vengeance, and it showed.
“The biggest injury is to the ego,” EH first-year coach Jim O’Hara said. “Last year they beat ‘em in the sectional, so they marked it on their calendar. They were better prepared for us, and quite frankly, they out-coached us. Hats off to them.”
Things began poorly and didn’t get better all night for the Royals, ranked No. 2 in Class A after a 14-1 record in 2013.
The blue-and-white moved the ball on offense behind quarterback Logan Splater in the first quarter, only to have a pair of drives stall due to interceptions by six-foot-6 cornerback Craig Dingwerth – the last of which came in the Northeastern end zone for a touchback.
The Knights took advantage each time, with Kelsy Kirkland running it in from three yards out with five minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the first quarter, and Dingwerth hauling in a 20-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Joey Claypoole with 8:52 on the clock in the second frame.
Sandwiched between the two scores was a 30-yard interception return by EH junior defensive lineman Dakota Myers, who stepped in front of a wayward Claypoole throw and took it to the house for the hosts’ lone score of the night at the 10:36 mark of the second quarter.
Claypoole scampered in from nine yards out just before the half, capitalizing after the Royals turned the ball over on downs near midfield. Claypoole’s two-point toss to Tyler Sandlin made the halftime score 22-6 in favor of the visitors.
EH received the second-half kickoff, but wound up with another turnover on downs.
Claypoole then guided his bunch on yet another scoring drive, the key play being the senior left-hander’s 17-yard scramble on 4th-and-6 from the Royal 40. Kirkland punched it in from 10 yards out two plays later to increase the margin to 26-6, effectively icing the game midway through the third quarter.
The Knights finished with 397 yards of offense – 276 courtesy of Claypoole, who threw for 182 yards, nearly the same amount (189) he accumulated in last year’s sectional final.
Dingwerth, who didn’t play football in 2013, had 102 receiving yards and two TD receptions to go with his two interceptions.
“First of all, you have to give Northeastern credit. They were ready to play. Their playmakers made some plays. They played eight guys both ways, and our guys seemed more gassed than them. That’s the coach’s responsibility to make sure the kids are in shape,” O’Hara said. “Having said that, we’re a young team. We’ve got a lot of young puppies playing on the offensive and defensive line, and it shows up.
“And you can’t turn the ball over. We’re not trying to turn the ball over, it just happens, but we had five turnovers. That doesn’t help.”
After leading the state in scoring at 52.93 points per game in 2013, the Royals really struggled on offense Friday night, tallying five turnovers on downs, three interceptions, two lost fumbles and one punt.
Splater and fellow senior Austin Lacy virtually split snaps at QB, combining to go 11-of-28 for 86 yards. Rushing-wise, EH averaged 3.9 yards per rush on 32 carries. In 2013, behind Spencer Gilbert (2,916 yards) and an offensive line with four senior starters, the Royals ran for almost 340 yards per game.
Eastern Hancock visits South Decatur (1-0) in its Mid-Indiana Football Conference opener Friday.
“We didn’t show up very well,” O’Hara said. “It’s embarrassing, but this is what competition is all about. It teaches you about adversity and how you handle it. We’ll go back to work (today) and learn a lot, then play South Decatur.”
Notes: Eastern Hancock’s last regular season loss prior to Friday was Oct. 5, 2012, and hadn’t lost by this many points since a 53-6 setback to Shenandoah on Oct. 7, 2011. … The Royals beat Northeastern 57-36 in last year’s sectional title game. … EH’s last loss to Northeastern was a 20-6 decision on Oct. 19, 2007.
Northeastern 34, Eastern Hancock 6
NE (1-0) 6 16 12 0 — 34
EH (0-1) 0 6 0 0 — 6
NE — Kirkland, 3-yard run (pass failed), 5:52.
EH — Myers, 30-yard interception return (pass failed), 10:36.
NE — Dingwerth, 20-yard pass from Claypoole (Kirkland run), 8:52.
NE — Claypoole, 9-yard run (Sandlin, 2-yard pass from Claypoole), 0:08.
NE — Kirkland, 10-yard run (run failed), 6:26.
NE — Dingwerth, 41-yard pass from Claypoole (pass failed), 5:00.
First downs 16 11
Rushes-yards 55-215 32-125
Passing yards 182 86
Comp-Att-Int 11-19-1 11-28-3
Fumbles-Lost 3-3 2-2
Penalties-Yards 13-101 5-25
Rushing: Kirkland 17-73, Tudor 5-37, Claypoole 6-94, Sandlin 4-7, Hughes 1-4 (NE); Spegal 9-45, Splater 9-47, Henderson 6-19, Lacy 8-14 (EH).
Passing: Claypoole 11-19-182 (NE); Splater 4-9-33, Lacy 7-17-53, Lewis 0-2-0 (EH).
Receiving: Kirkland 3-33, Sandlin 1-7, Tudor 1-40, Dingwerth 6-102 (NE); Henderson 7-21, Denny 2-26, Smith 2-39 (EH).