Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele (32) carries the ball while Oak Hill’s Isaac Austin (66) tries to tackle him Friday night in Winthrop. (Jennifer Bechard photo)
WINTHROP — Evan Burnell was a nervous wreck.
The Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale senior defensive lineman had watched an otherwise quiet Oak Hill offense march 64 yards down the field on its final possession of Friday’s Class D South matchup, capping it with Raider quarterback Gavin Rawstron’s 1-yard touchdown run with 24.9 seconds remaining.
Even after holding Oak Hill to minus-6 yards of total offense for the first 21 minutes of the second half, the best was yet to come from Winthrop’s defense in what would turn into a 14-12 win.
“It was very scary. I don’t like close games at all,” said Burnell, who turned that nervous energy into the biggest play of the night.
When Rawstron tried to keep the ball himself on the ensuing two-point conversion play and run to the left side of his offensive line, Burnell and junior Jevin Smith busted through the blocks to wrap Rawstron up well short of the goal line and put a stop to the try that would have tied a game the Ramblers never trailed.
“We questioned if we could stop power football,” Winthrop coach Dave St. Hilaire said, noting injuries to an already thin defensive corps. “We teach them in our defense to come in and meet at the quarterback, and they certainly did that. Kudos to them.”
When Oak Hill’s 6-foot-5, 395-pound lineman A.J. Redmun lined up on the right side of the formation, Burnell was convinced that’s where the two-point try was headed.
“He wasn’t on our side, so we were expecting it to go to the other side,” Burnell said. “But (Rawstron) went to my side and Jevin got to him first.”
Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette wasn’t about to try anything out of the ordinary on the crucial final play for the Raiders offense.
“We were hoping to be physical,” Doucette said. “The kids felt comfortable with the play, and we ran it.”
Winthrop sealed the victory when sophomore Ian Steele fell on Liam Rodrigue’s onside kick near midfield. Both teams are now 1-1.
“Our defense really came through today for us,” said Winthrop junior quarterback Keegan Choate, who threw a pair of touchdown passes in the victory. “They were able to stop that at the end, and then the hands team for the onsides kick was good, too. But we still have a lot to improve.”
Winthrop enjoyed a narrow 7-6 lead heading into the final quarter, despite having dominated the field position game in the opening half. Two Rambler possessions ended with fourth-down incompletions inside the red zone, and a third stalled out at the Oak Hill 23.
The Ramblers finally opened the scoring when Choate found Ryan Baird for a 15-yard scoring pass and a 7-0 lead with 8:47 remaining in the second quarter.
The Raiders responded on their very next drive. Despite having run just three plays from scrimmage in each of its first two possessions of the game, Oak Hill got on the board when Rawstron’s quarterback keeper found paydirt from 3 yards out to make it 7-6 with 4:22 left in the half.
That possession was an outlier for Oak Hill, which managed only one other first down until the game’s final drive. The Raiders mustered just 139 yards of offense for the night.
Winthrop, meanwhile, was more efficient — if only marginally more effective on the scoreboard. Choate completed 14 of 27 passes for 136 yards, the most important of which was a 15-yard touchdown strike to Beau Schmelzer on fourth down to make it 14-6 with 8:19 left in the fourth quarter.
“They gave me the time, and we knew that route was going to probably be there,” Choate said. “It was, and everything was executed well on that play.”
Choate also rushed for 58 yards. Steele led the team with 71 yards on the ground.
“We had a different level of energy this week,” Burnell said of the Ramblers rebounding from a Week 1 loss. “We got beat by Spruce (Mountain) pretty bad last year, so we kind of went in with that mentality being a little big scared. It was definitely nice to get this win.”
Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele carries the ball past Oak Hill’s Colin French, left, Friday night in Winthrop. (Jennifer Bechard photo)
Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ryan Baird catches an incomplete pass while Oak Hill’s Liam Rodrigue defends him Friday night in Winthrop. (Jennifer Bechard photo)
Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele is tackled by Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron Friday night in Winthrop. (Jennifer Bechard photo)