Falcons hold off Gladiators to remain undefeated

Central's Shane Watson tries to ward off Riverhead's Dalton Jordan as he runs for yardage during fourth quarter action Friday night in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — All season Central’s offense has put up big numbers as the Falcons cruised through their schedule. On Friday night, it was Central’s defense that made some of the biggest plays to keep the Falcons undefeated.

Central used a third-quarter goal-line stand to hold off Riverheads 21-6 in nondistrict football action.

“Just bend don’t break,” Central junior linebacker Zach Abrams said of the team’s defense. “Yeah, they had a couple big plays, but we ended up stopping them almost every time.”

With Central clinging to a 21-6 lead, Riverheads had a fourth-and-goal at the Falcons’ 1-yard line with just over a minute left in the third quarter.

The Falcons’ defense tightened up and stuffed Riverheads’ running back Devin Morris for a 2-yard loss to turn the ball back over to the Falcons.

Central's Varsey Bright returns an interception during the fourth quarter. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It was tough. It was definitely tough,” Abrams said of the play. “You just had to stick your nose in the holes and just clog ’em up.”

Central junior Kyle Clanton said that he wasn’t even aware it was fourth down until the play was over.

“It don’t matter what down it is we still want to stop them when they’re that close,” Clanton said. “But having it on fourth down is a big one. I think that put an end to their hype.”

The Gladiators (7-2) had one last chance to score late in the game, but Central senior safety Varsey Bright came up with one last big play for the Falcons. Bright intercepted Riverheads quarterback Tyler Smith’s pass to seal the win in the final minute.

Bright battled Riverheads’ Drew Bond for the ball and came down with it in the end zone.

Central quarterback Zeb Dyer runs to the outside to score a 2-point conversion. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Coach said ‘back up, they’re going to pass.’ They had to score to be in the game,” Bright said. “And I seen the ball in the air, and I went to go get it. That’s usually what I do with all my picks. Once I got it, I just laid there. I was like ‘thank you.’ We needed it. We needed it to clinch the game. And we knew it was over after that.”

It was the third interception of the game for Bright, who now has 10 for the season. The three interceptions tied a school record for most in a game.

Riverheads started the game with a 14-play drive. However, the Falcons were able to stop the Gladiators on fourth-and-20 from the Central 35-yard line to turn the ball over on downs.

Central went 70 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive. Clanton scored on a 15-yard touchdown run with 1:38 left in the opening quarter.

On Riverheads next possession, Central’s Bright intercepted a pass by Smith with 11:47 left in the first half.

Central's Shane Watson finds a hole on a fourth-quarter carry against Riverheads. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The kids made big plays when it was time,” Central coach Mike Yew said. “That’s really all it comes down to. We made huge plays when it was time to make ’em.”

Central scored on the next play as quarterback Zeb Dyer threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Clanton for a 13-0 edge with 11:40 left in the opening half.

“The corner was playing up,” Clanton said of the play. “Zeb (Dyer) made a good ball and everybody blocked good on that one. So like I usually say I had the easy part.”

The Gladiators scored on a 1-yard run by Dalton Jordan to cut the lead to 13-6 with 42 seconds left in the first half.

Central used a nine-play 55-yard drive to stretch the lead to start the second half. Clanton capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 21-6 lead with 8:01 left in the third quarter.

Central's Varsey Bright runs off the field after a Kyle Clanton touchdown during the first quarter Friday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central running back Shane Watson ran for 94 yards on 20 carries. Dyer was 4-for-7 for 128 passing yards.

It was the first time this season the Falcons have been in a competitive game in the second half, and Bright said he was happy with how the team responded.

“It was great,” Bright said. “We knew this was going to be like a playoff game, and playoff games are going to be this close. So we fought adversity and we digged in. We had a close game and we just executed.”

Central quarterback Zeb Dyer stands beside head coach Mike Yew during a timeout. Rich Cooley/Daily