Waynesville coach Rick Vernon thinks his team is poised to start reeling in some wins
WAYNESVILLE — There wasn't any anger in the speeches given in the Waynesville (0-2) huddle following the 15-14 loss to the Lebanon Yellowjackets' (2-0) football team.
No one spoke with a dejected tone.
In fact, Head Coach Rick Vernon sounded as optimistic as ever.
“We're going to make a run,” he told his team after the game.
A couple of coaches talked with one another and kept saying how close they were.
55 seconds is how close they were.
Lebanon's junior kicker Kendrick Tiller booted three field goals on the night for Lebanon. One from 28, 37 and the final one from 47-yards out with 55.8 seconds to go to put the Yellowjackets up 15-14.
A high school kicker with that strong and accurate of a leg isn't commonplace.
Still, the Tigers had their chance at the end of the game to make a play to win the game, but they faltered.
A good return, followed up by a Lebanon penalty set Waynesville up in good field position at Lebanon’s 40. Then a pass interference call pushed them ahead another 15 yards. Junior Seth Hedrick got them a first-and-10 at the 10-yard line after a gain of 15-yards on a sweep. It looked like nothing would stop the Tigers from making an incredible comeback, but the next snap sailed over quarterback Varon Martinez’s head. Running back Jalen Thomas fell on the loose ball, but Waynesville lost 15 yards. Then Martinez was tackled for a four-yard loss on the next play with 12 seconds left in the game. So, the Tigers had to try for a 45-yard kick, but it fell well short. Vernon knows how it looked at the end, but he's been around long enough to know it wasn't just the arrant snap or the missed kick. There were several things that sunk their ship Friday night. “We should have put it in the end zone at other times too,” Vernon said. “It doesn't always come down to the last play.” There was also the costly fumble on Lebanon's 20-yard line that they lost. In all, there were three fumbles, but only one resulted in a turnover. Three other times they were in the red zone, but only one of those trips resulted in points — Martinez’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Nigel Farmer. Penalties continue to be an issue as well. Lebanon accepted 10 penalties against the Tigers for 85 yards. The good news is, this week there weren't as many issues in the run game. Tackles for loss dropped from six last week to four this week. Senior running back Jalen Thomas was plowing ahead for 6.9 yards per carry, stacking up 124 yards in all. The offensive line was firing off the ball, quick to get their hands on defenders and move them out of the way. Nigel Farmer and Seth Hedrick continue to be threats in the passing game. They both had a touchdown apiece. Hedrick's came with 11:02 left in the third quarter, grabbing a quick pass on a hitch and escaping defenders down Lebanon's sideline 84 yards for the score. His touchdown put Waynesville up 14-12. If the Tigers won though, the game ball would've went to the defense. They smothered the Yellowjackets on third downs, stopping them 11 out of 15 tries. And when Lebanon drove 52 yards down the field to Waynesville's 14 in the third quarter, the defense forced a turnover on downs. Elza Evans, the Yellowjackets' feature back who put up 314 yards last week on Rolla, was held to 155 yards this go around on 22 carries. 66 of those yards came on one play in the first quarter. “Our kids answered a challenge,” Defensive Coordinator Karl Wilking said Friday night. “We preached to the kids about playing with an attitude. Yeah, [Evans] ran for 300 something yards last week, but if our kids get their heads on right and do their jobs and make people play at our tempo, we’re going to be fine. Tonight proved that.”
Their new and improved intensity even showed up on special teams on occasion.
Jackson Haedt blocked a punt that was recovered on Lebanon's 20 that set up Waynesville's first touchdown.
Only one touchdown was allowed all night — a 5-yard pass from Luke Winfrey to Conner Hicks.
That wouldn't be enough for most teams to win on most nights.
“[Wayensville] put themselves in a spot [to win],” Lebanon coach Will Christian said. “We're blessed and fortunate to get out of here with the win.”
If the Tigers can keep up that kind of defensive play, and the offense can take their step forward this week, the Tigers could begin the run that Vernon is talking about.
The Tigers will have another chance this Friday, Sept. 5 at 7:00 p.m. against the Hillcrest Hornets (1-1) in Waynesville.