With all of the hoopla surrounding the Garaway Pirates brand-new turf field, it took Jason Wallick’s football team a little bit to shake off all of the glitz and glamour as the Pirates took the field for the 2018 season-opener against Harrison Central.
Tied at the half, the Pirates turned it on in the second half as Brady Winters led the offensive attack and Ethan Roden proved to be a dominating factor on the defense in Garaway’s 40-14 victory.
The win on the new field marked the first time the Pirates have ever won on a turf field, according to Wallick.
“We’ve never won on artificial turf, so it was nice to get that monkey off our back right away,” Wallick said.
Before the game began, everyone on The Hill knew it was going to be something special as they celebrated the field’s new turf.
The very fact that the Sugarcreek community came together to create the funding and in-kind services that led to the new stadium surface was something special.
“We live in an amazing community, and it is a unique atmosphere to see a school our size put something like this together,” Wallick said. “It took the effort of a lot of people, and we are fortunate and very grateful to be a part of it and to have that kind of support behind our kids.”
Wallick said the excitement of a new season with the new field and some new players led to a sluggish start, but one guy who was ready to rock and roll was senior back Brady Winters, who grabbed the initial kick-off and ripped off a stunning 82-yard kick return to the Harrison Central 8-yard line.
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He completed the quick 8-yard drive with an opening score, but the Huskies battled right back to take the lead at 14-7, the first touchdown being a shocker that came when a Huskies player got behind the Pirates defense, caught a pass and was off to the races for a 91-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-all. Moments later the Huskies scored again from 14 yards to claim the lead.
The Pirates answered on a drive that ended with another Winters score from 2 yards, and the two teams were deadlocked again.
With the game locked up at 14 entering the third period, the Pirates went to work to put some distance between themselves and the Huskies.
“We made a few mistakes in the first half that cost us pretty dearly,” Wallick said. “The kids knew we didn’t play very well in the first half, and I thought they did a nice job of refocusing in the second half.”
Winters scored on the opening drive of the second half for Garaway from 4 yards out, and the Pirates held a slim 20-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Winters quickly raced in from 15 yards out to make it 27-14. The defense got a quick stop, and quarterback Dawson Ley found Kory Stress in the end zone for a 15-yard scoring pass, the Pirates now rolling at 34-14.
While the offense started clicking, the defense was downright nasty in the second half, completely stymieing the Huskies. Much of that was courtesy of Roden, who seemed as though he was in on Harrison Central’s huddles each play. Roden ended up making five tackles for a loss including two sacks and helped reroute the momentum with each play he made.
The other main alteration in the defense was something that pleased Wallick a great deal. “We just came out in the second half and did a lot of things better, but the one thing we really improved on was our tackling,” Wallick said. “I thought we did a much better job of wrapping guys up. We were a half-step late in the first half, and I thought we got more aggressive. Ethan did a phenomenal job and was a real momentum changer.”
Garaway’s Zach Bickford racked up a late score from 1 yard out, putting the finishing touches on a terrific second half.
“We did some things well; we did some things not so well,” Wallick said of his team’s effort. “Like any home opener, there were a lot of positives and negatives to take away from the game, and hopefully both of those will help us get better in the long run.”