Warriors beat Excel Christian 52-12 on Homecoming, improve to 9-0
The Whittell football team celebrated Homecoming with a decisive victory Thursday night. After allowing a score on the opening drive, the Warriors reeled off five first-half touchdowns en route to a 52-12 win over Excel Christian — a victory that extends their unbeaten streak to nine consecutive games.
“We didn’t have a good practice week, and when you play somebody the second time it’s not always easy,” Whittell head coach Phil Bryant said. “We did what we needed to — it was efficient.”
Whittell (9-0, 5-0 IV West) found itself behind after the first possession of the game. Excel Christian (2-5, 1-4) took the opening kickoff and drove 73 yards in eight plays, and struck first on a 35-yard run from back Christopher Johnson with 7:52 left in the opening frame.
“In the first quarter we were kind of out of it on defense and weren’t really playing as hard — but we got it together after that first drive,” Warriors senior Bryce Bronken said. “Once we settled down, focused and realized we could beat this team, we got the job done.”
After falling behind, the Warriors found the end zone on five of their seven first-half drives to take control of the game. Whittell started its first possession at midfield after a return from Corey Huber — five plays later the freshman running back broke four tackles en route to the end zone for a 21-yard score that tied the game.
Excel Christian went three-and-out on its next possession, and a 48-yard punt return from Huber set Whittell up at the ECS 12-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Colin Buchholz found Bronken wide-open in the end zone for a 10-yard score — after the two-point conversion, Whittell had a 14-6 lead with 3:33 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors failed to convert a fourth down on their next possession — but got the ball back on the next play. Excel Christian fumbled the first snap after its defensive stop, and Whittell linebacker Sean Noyes recovered the ball at the 5-yard line.
Two plays after the recovery, running back Jake Sharp scored from 7 yards out — and his two-point conversion run put Whittell ahead 22-6 with 10:37 left in the half. The Warriors scored twice more in the second quarter to take a 32-point lead into the break — running back Max Primo ran for a 53-yard score on the next drive and Buchholz connected with Bronken for a 39-yard touchdown with 15.7 seconds left in the half.
Excel Christian again opened the scoring after halftime, but Whittell answered with touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters to put the game further out of reach. On fourth-and-1 following ECS’ score, Buchholz threw a deep ball that Bronken ran under for a 48-yard score — the third touchdown catch of the game for the senior tight end that was crowned Homecoming King at halftime.
“Both their corners were playing way out wide and they had a safety that was pushing up like he was going to blitz, so I knew we could beat them deep,” Bronken said.
Midway the fourth quarter, Buchholz found Huber for a 22-yard touchdown that capped the scoring. The victory was Whittell’s second over Excel Christian this season — the Warriors scored a season-low 38 points in a 24-point win at ECS on Sept. 6.
“We knew they were going to come out with a lot of power — they’re a good team,” Bronken said. “We beat them once, but we knew they were going to come out and play really hard tonight.”
Four of Buchholz’s five completions went for touchdowns in Thursday’s win — the junior finished with 125 yards passing and 34 yards rushing. Bronken caught four of those passes for 105 yards and three scores — and intercepted a pass in the second quarter.
Huber had a team-high 73 yards rushing on 14 carries in addition to his 20-yard touchdown reception. Primo ran for 64 yards and a score on five carries and Sharp had 58 yards and a touchdown on nine carries — Sharp also converted each of Whittell’s five successful two-point conversions.
“Jake took the leadership in the beginning and Corey is a really efficient runner — we’re not afraid to give him the ball in any situation,” Bryant said. “Then we spot duty Max Primo, and that helps.”
For Excel Christian, running back Eli Spurlock ran for a game-high 104 yards on 21 carries and Johnson had 79 yards on 12 carries — both found the end zone in a losing effort. Between ECS’ two touchdown drives, Whittell held the Warriors to 46 yards and forced two turnovers.
“We’re still learning how to play and learning the system — we have a long way to go to be where I would like them to be,” Bryant said. “But you can’t argue with the results.”
With its ninth straight victory to start the 2014 season, Whittell has now equaled its win total from the last four years combined. Before a large Homecoming crowd Thursday night, the Warriors won to continue their dramatic turnaround season.
“It’s pretty crazy — every year I’ve been at the school, we’ve had a pretty weak football program,” Bronken said. “It’s cool to be on a team that is changing the way things are around Whittell and making a difference — having the fans get into it, having the cheerleaders here and creating a lot of school pride.”
Thursday’s victory sets up a showdown with Virginia City next Thursday at 6 p.m. If the Muckers beat Smith Valley on Friday night, next week’s contest on Whittell’s home field will be winner-take-all for the league championship.
“They’re the cream of the crop — when we started the year, we wanted our team to become a program similar to theirs,” Bryant said. “It should be great.”