Turnovers plague MMA in home loss

By Jeff Nations

WOODSTOCK — Massanutten Military Academy’s football team got another dose of the good, the bad and the ugly — not necessarily in that order — on Friday against visiting Saint John’s Catholic Prep (Md.) at Bowman Stadium.

The good came last, as MMA rallied for a pair of sparkling touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Vikings. That only came after the bad, when the Colonels could barely move the ball for much of the game on offense, and definitely after the ugly when Saint John’s scored on back-to-back fumble returns for touchdowns in the Vikings’ eventual 42-22 victory.

Forced to abandon their typical shotgun formation after a series of bad snaps in last week’s loss to Atlantic Shores, the Colonels had quarterback Derik Duklis under center for much of the first half failed to generate much offense outside a 21-yard touchdown pass from Duklis to wide receiver Damoni Gunter that cut the Vikings’ lead to 14-6 with 4:10 left in the first half.

Saint John’s (2-1) promptly fumbled on its first play of the ensuing possession and MMA (0-3) recovered at its own 32. That drive stalled, and the Vikings burned them with two plays on their next drive when quarterback Bryce Johnson connected with M.J. Ambers on a 22-yard pass and then hit Trevor Lecuona on a slant route that the junior wideout turned into a 32-yard touchdown.

That was the second touchdown reception of the game for Lecuona (4 catches, 108 yards) who became Johnson’s target of choice when the normally dangerous Greer Wilson was well blanketed by the Colonels.

“Trevor really stepped up today,” Vikings coach John Ricca said. “They put one of their best players, maybe their best player, on Greer. He challenged Greer, so we went to the other guys. Trevor’s a pretty good player in his own right and he made some big plays for us.”

Down 22-6 at the half, it could have been worse for the Colonels.

It got worse, in a hurry. Brandon Barnes capped Saint John’s three-play, 53-yard drive on its opening possession of the second half with a 17-yard touchdown run.

MMA then fumbled away a screen pass on its next possession that the Vikings’ Wilson scooped up and returned for a 20-yard touchdown to push his team’s lead to 36-6.

The Colonels lost another fumble on their next possession as they reverted back to using the shotgun, and a high snap sailed over the head of Duklis. The Vikings’ George Snowden tracked down the loose ball and returned it for a 16-yard touchdown.

“We’ve been in the gun for the past two years and we had some trouble against Atlantic Shores getting the snap, so I decided we’re going to go under center again,” MMA coach Chris Gilliland said. “It worked OK for awhile, but we couldn’t run the ball inside. We were having trouble getting to the outside, so I said let’s just go back into the gun and try to throw it around.”

The Colonels finally got going early in the fourth quarter, as Gunter stopped a Saint John’s drive with a fumble recovery. On first down, Duklis took a shotgun keeper to the outside, headed upfield and cut across on his way to a 74-yard touchdown run. That score came despite MMA having just 10 men on the field.

“Derik just made a play,” Gilliland said. “He made it up the field, did some things and got in the end zone so I was pleased to see that.”

Gunter (5 catches for 98 yards, 2 TDs) made another one on the Colonels’ next possession, when hauling in a 62-yard catch to spark an 87-yard drive that he capped with an 8-yard touchdown reception.

It was too little to salvage more than a respectable score, though.

“We’re working hard, we’re trying to figure things out,” Gunter said. “I don’t know … we’re just going to get it. We’ve just got to work together as a group.”

Duklis finished with 9-of-21 passing for 141 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked five times though, and the Colonels managed just 31 net yards rushing.

Saint John’s only rushed for 117 yards, but passed for 166 in the win.

“They’re real young,” Ricca said. “We played them last year and won by a similar score, but it was a different game. They were a much tougher team and we just played better. I didn’t think we played that well, but we’re now juniors and some seniors and they’re younger than us. They’re where we were a couple years ago.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>. Follow on Twitter @J_NationsNVD