Spruce Mountain’s Brandon Frey attempts a tackle of Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Ian Steele during Friday night’s football game in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WINTHROP — Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s stingy varsity defense hadn’t given up a touchdown in 15 quarters before Spruce Mountain quarterback Jack Bryant scored from six yards out to pull the Phoenix within eight points on the opening drive in the second half.

Whenever the Ramblers’ offense has had to respond to those rare setbacks by the defense this season, it has usually done so. That formula is a big reason why Friday night’s 32-12 win clinched the top seed in Class D South and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Jacob Sousa picked off three passes, Jevin Smith ran for two second-half touchdowns and Keegan Choate ran for a touchdown and threw for another as the Ramblers, winners of seven in a row, improved to 7-1.

“We needed a game like that where a team brings it and plays good, physical football,” Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “We need to make adjustments and we need to get better. The guys did a great job of fighting through the adversity and overcoming the adversity. (Spruce) brought it tonight and we needed one of those games.”

The loss drops the Phoenix to 5-3 and they will likely host a first-round game against Mountain Valley next week.

Bryant had runs of 11, 14 and 14 yards and a 23-yard pass completion to Trevor Whelpley on the scoring drive that finally got the Phoenix on the board, making it 14-6, after they’d failed to capitalize on three Rambler turnovers in the second quarter.

But Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale answered quickly thanks to a long kick return by Jacob Sousa that set the Ramblers up at midfield. Eight of the next nine plays were on the ground, capped by Choate’s five-yard touchdown run that made it 20-6.

“I think the last six or seven varsity touchdowns we’ve given up, we’ve answered every time,” St. Hilaire said.

“We didn’t execute real well in the first half and we knew we had to execute in the second half,” Choate said.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Jacob Sousa runs with the ball during Friday night’s football game in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Bryant rushed for 77 of his 92 yards and both Phoenix touchdowns in the second half after it was apparent the Ramblers were focusing on shutting down his top weapon, Brandon Frey (one catch for zero yards, four rushes for minus-seven yards).

“He’s definitely a hell of a player and they’ve got quite the offense,” Sousa said. “But we had a game plan going into the game and we just executed it to the ‘T.'”

“We doubled (Frey) a little bit, but we had Sousa doing a great job of following him around,” St. Hilaire said. “When they put him in motion, other guys picked up the slack. We didn’t want to let him turn the corner. If he gets the ball, let’s keep him confined. Don’t let him get his wheels going because if you give him 10 touches, he’s going to score four times.”

Another 23-yard completion by Bryant to Whelpley followed by the pair’s 14-yard connection preceded Bryant’s one-yard TD plunge with 9:57 left in the game. Sousa intercepted Bryant’s desperation two-point pass at the goal line to keep it 20-12 Ramblers.

“I told (Brandon Frey) you’re probably not going to see the ball in the second half, just be a decoy,” Spruce Mountain coach Dave Frey. “He accepted that. He understood and took his role. And Jack did a great job. That first half, offensively we didn’t do very well. They’re very good at pursuing. That’s what makes a great defense.”

The Ramblers countered via the ground again, running Logan Baird four times in a row for 43 yards before Smith rumbled in from 17 yards out for a 27-12 lead with seven minutes remaining.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Beau Schmelzer runs along the sideline as Spruce Mountain’s Jacob Pike dives for his legs during Friday night’s football game in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Smith added another 17-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds left.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale built its early lead as Choate completed his final six passes of the first quarter, highlighted by fine runs after the catch by Beau Schmelzer and Ian Steele and a two-yard TD pass to Ryan Baird at the front left pylon.

“Our receivers are good. I just need to get them the ball a little bit better,” said Choate, who finished 9-for-20 for 157 yards, one TD and two interceptions. “Once our receivers get the ball, though, they’re going to get yards.”

“I know Choate’s going to get it to me, so I’ve just got to find my lane and get to the end zone,” Schmelzer said.

Steele also had a two-yard TD run but Phoenix interceptions by Frey and Jacob Pike and a fumble recovery by  Evan Dow prevented them from enjoying more than a 14-0 halftime lead.

The Ramblers’ defense allowed a 25-yard Bryant pass completion to Michael Shaw on its first play but kept the explosive Phoenix offense under wraps (46 total yards) in the half, thanks in large part to Jacob Sousa’s two interceptions and two of Cody Perkins’ three sacks on the night.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale’s Logan Baird gets taken down by Spruce Mountain’s Brandon Frey during Friday night’s football game in Winthrop. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


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