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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Warren County used a powerful ground game led by Gage Steele and a stingy defense to open its 2011 football campaign by overwhelming Clarke County 29-0 on Friday.
Steele, who played very little in the second half, amassed 195 yards on the ground and scored twice, powering through and around the Eagles' defense almost at will.
While Clarke County's defense had no answer for Steele, the Eagles' offense never managed to put together anything close to a drive against the Wildcats. Clarke County was able to produce only 85 yards of total offense for the night, and had just five first downs.
"I was really proud of the way our kids came out, especially in the first half," Wildcats coach Tony Tallent said. "We've still got to get a lot better, and I think our kids know that."
It didn't take Warren County long to establish its dominance, scoring on its first drive of the game. After stopping the Eagles on the opening possession with an interception by Damien Wright, the Wildcats marched 37 yards for their first score. Tyler Post got the touchdown with 4:57 left in the first quarter on a 2-yard quarterback sneak.
Clarke County ran just four plays on its next drive before a fumbled exchange resulted in a recovery by Wright. This time it took just two plays for Warren County to get its second touchdown of the game.
"We certainly opened the door for them by making some mistakes," Clarke County coach Chris Parker said. "They took advantage of them, too. They did a good job of beating us physically up front. On defense, we just didn't wrap up on our tackles. I really believe that we're a lot better than we showed tonight."
After Post used a little trickery to gain nine yards on a bootleg, the Wildcats junior hit Christopher Larsen on a 36-yard bomb to put Warren County up 14-0 with 2:47 still left in the first quarter.
About the only thing the Wildcats weren't doing right was committing penalties. Warren County was penalized eight times for 62 yards during the game.
Clarke's defense managed to shut down the Wildcats through most of the second period, but after a 26-yard punt, Warren County was able to drive 39 yards to score on a 4-yard run by Steele with just 23 seconds in the first half to pull ahead, 21-0.
Warren County's dominance was evident in the first-half statistics. The Wildcats ground out 204 yards of total offense in the first half, compared to Clarke County's 55. Steele's running did the most damage. The Warren County senior rushed for 76 yards on 12 carries in the first 24 minutes of play.
If that wasn't enough to get the Eagles' heads down, Steele turned the first play of the second half into an 84-yard touchdown run, and the Wildcats' special teams produced a strange but successful two-point conversion.
"Steele is definitely a good running back," Parker said. "When he carries it, he carries it with some purpose."
A bad snap on the extra point left the ball in Wildcats kicker Blake Steele's hands. With Clarke County defenders all around him, the sophomore launched a prayer into the end zone that was snagged by Wildcats tight end Zane Grudzinski.
Steele's 86-yard run ended the scoring for the Wildcats, but not their dominance in the running game. Turning over the running duties to backups Tim Green and Wayne Starks, Steele finished the night with 195 yards rushing on 14 carries. Green also made a contribution to the Wildcats' ground game, rushing for 59 yards on 14 carries, and Starks took over in the final quarter and rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries.
"Our running game was a real team effort tonight, and not just from our backs," Tallent said. "The offensive line did a good job of getting holes for them to run through. Gage had that long run, but that whole run was all about our wide receiver getting his block."