By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Playing in its final game of the season, Massanutten Military Academy hung with a tough Hancock (Md.) squad for a little over a quarter. A couple breaks went Hancock's way, and the Panthers pulled away for a 52-18 non-conference football win on Friday afternoon.
"We thought coming into the game that we should be able to compete with these guys," MMA coach Chris Gilliland said. "I think we did for the first quarter, quarter and a half. We had a couple unlucky breaks.
"I was very proud of the way the guys fought the whole game."
Hancock needed only three plays to take the early lead. A 43-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jesse Wolford gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 10:15 left in the opening quarter.
The Colonels (0-8) came right back with a solid opening drive. They used seven plays to go 48 yards. A 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Derik Duklis to Houston Walls tied the game with 6:37 left in the first quarter.
The Colonels recovered an onside kick and once again marched the ball down the field.
MMA drove the ball to the Hancock 20, but a bad snap resulted in a 14-yard loss to the Hancock 34. On the next play, Duklis' pass was intercepted by Wolford and returned 91 yards for a touchdown and a 12-6 lead with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
"That was huge," Hancock coach Todd Ruppenthal said. "We're not used to playing in the afternoon, and our kids didn't adjust well. [MMA] really had us on our heels. I thought the interception really picked us up and we played better after that."
The Panthers (7-1) added to their lead with an eight-play, 55-yard drive. Hancock's Noah Teeter capped it off with a 12-yard run to give Hancock a 20-6 lead with 8:32 left in the first half.
To make matters worse for the Colonels, wide receiver Houston Walls suffered an injury late in the first quarter and did not return until the start of the second half.
On its next possession MMA tried a fake punt, which didn't work and gave the Panthers the ball at the MMA 20. Two plays later, Jordan Keefer ran it in from 16 yards out for a 26-6 lead with 6:25 left in the first half.
The Colonels had another drive stall out in the red zone, and the Panthers responded with another touchdown. Keefer weaved his way through the MMA defense for a 25-yard touchdown run and a 32-6 halftime lead.
The Colonels scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Duklis threw an 8-yard touchdown to Walls. MMA used some trickery, via a hook-and-lateral, for its last score. Duklis threw a 10-yard pass to Walls, who lateraled to Joshua Holt, who ran 55 yards for a touchdown.
"We have a very young team. They will learn from this experience and get better," Gilliland said.
Keefer led the Panthers with 168 yards rushing on 20 carries, while Wolford had 83 yards on 11 carries.
"We're a very small school in the state of Maryland. We have a chance to make the playoffs," Ruppenthal said. "That would be big for us, for our community. The kids are taking it one game at a time. We just want to finish the season strong. They're a great group of kids. They work hard."
Walls led the Colonels with nine receptions for 90 yards, and 32 yards on the ground in his last game with the Colonels. Duklis threw for 141 yards on 14 for 30 passing.
Gilliland said he was proud of the effort his team gave all season.
"We didn't have anybody quit all season," Gilliand said. "We had a year we went 5-5 and had some players quit. This season everybody stayed on the team. They had a real positive attitude.
"Hopefully our young guys will learn from this season and get better in the offseason."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd