Warriors red zone offense sputters in loss to Sedan

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Opportunities made and opportunities missed were the difference in Sedan’s 22-6 regional playoff victory over Peabody-Burns Saturday afternoon in Peabody.

Three times the Sedan Blue Devils (11-0) penetrated the Peabody-Burns 30-yard line during the game, and three times they scored.

Meanwhile, the hometown Warriors (8-3) found themselves inside the Blue Devil 30 six times, but only found the end zone once.

“I didn’t do a very good job of coaching that game,” coach Chris Young said afterward. “We had 200 yards rushing, but we just didn’t answer. We’ve struggled in the red zone all year. You can blame that on the coach.”

Peabody-Burns’ first opportunity came early. After the Warriors stopped Sedan in six plays on the opening possession of the game, Blue Devil punter Chris Jackson bobbled the snap, giving the Warriors’ Ryan Gaines enough time to get a hand on the kick.

After the Warriors recovered the ball at the Sedan 39-yard line, running back Mario Nava moved the ball 15 yards closer on his first carry of the afternoon. But the Warriors managed only one yard on their next four plays to turn the ball over on downs.

Five plays later, from the 50, Sedan quarterback John Horton connected with 6-foot, 6-inch tight end Brandon Rees for a catch and run that put the Blue Devils on the board with 6:26 left in the quarter. Running back Phillip Sweaney swept the right end for the 2-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.

The two teams traded possession three times before fullback Jeremy Hunsucker broke through the Warrior defense for a 33-yard gain. But Gaines forced Sedan’s top running back Willie Wilkinson to fumble on the next play and the Warriors recovered the ball at midfield.

An 11-yard pass from Todd Woodruff to Micah Hilliard on third down, followed by a 12-yard run by Nava, gave the Warriors a first down at the Sedan 28-yard line.

But after two running plays and a short pass netted only two yards, the Warriors gave up the football on downs when Woodruff’s pass to Kurt Phillips fell to the turf.

After another exchange of possessions, Sedan added a second touchdown with an eight-play, 83-yard drive. The big play along the way was a 51-yard pass and run from Horton to Rees that took the ball to the Warrior 6-yard line.

Three plays and an encroachment penalty later, Sedan’s Darron Rees scored untouched from two yards out. Wilkinson added the 2-point conversion run to bump the lead to 16-0 with 42.4 seconds left in the half.

But the Warriors made the most of the time allotted, moving from their own 41-yard line to the Blue Devil 11 in three plays-including a great catch of a Woodruff pass by Phillips, who stepped in front of his defender at the last moment and turned a potential interception into a 29-yard gain.

With 11 yards and 12.3 seconds to go before halftime, Woodruff threw two incomplete passes before throwing a third pass into the hands of Sedan’s Sweaney as time expired.

Young said rather than deflating his team, the failure to score at the end of the first half made them mad.

“They came out with fire,” he said.

The Warriors took the second half kickoff and pieced together their best drive of the day.

Starting at its own 11-yard line, Peabody-Burns drove the length of the field in 13 plays-aided by three face-mask penalties called against Sedan. But the big play was a 43-yard pass between Woodruff and Nathan Bishop, who caught the ball at around the 30-yard line and zig-zagged his way to the Blue Devil 4.

Three plays later, the Warriors overcame an illegal procedure penalty to score on a 1-yard plunge by Woodruff. Nava’s run for two points was stopped short, and the score stood at 16-6 with 7:38 left in the quarter.

The Warriors had an opportunity to jump right back into contention with another quick score. After forcing Sedan to go three-and-out on its next possession, the Sedan punter mishandled the snap and the Warriors recovered the ball at the Sedan 34-yard line.

A first-down run by Nava, plus a flagrant-face-mask call against Sedan, gave the Warriors another first down at the Blue Devil 21.

But Nava and Phillips were stopped for no gain on back-to-back runs. A short pass to Hilliard gained five yards to the 16, but a fourth-and-5 pass intended for Jonathan Foth fell incomplete.

From there, Sedan put together its best sustained drive of the day, moving 84-yards in 12 plays, including a key 29-yard third-down pass from Horton to Brandon Rees midway through the drive.

Wilkinson scored from four yards out on the first place of the fourth quarter to give Sedan its final 22-6 margin.

Both teams saw potential scoring drives end in turnovers during the final period.

Sedan coughed up the football on a fumble one play after Horton and-who else-Brandon Rees connected on a 21-yard pass play to the Warrior 28-yard line.

Peabody then drove to the Sedan 35-yard line before Sweaney picked off a Woodruff pass at the 23 and returned the ball to the Blue Devil 31.

“The kids are pretty heartbroken right now,” Young said of his Warriors. “We had 200 yards rushing, but we just didn’t answer (in the red zone).”

Officially, the Warriors finished with 194 yards on the ground in 45 carries, with Nava capping his outstanding career with 144 yards on 24 carries.

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils, who were mostly shut down on their bread-and-butter option gam by the Warrior defense, picked up 178 yards through the air with Brandon Rees accounting for 148 yards on six receptions.

“He was phenomenal,” Young said. “We were triple-teaming that guy and he was still finding his way open.”

Young said he was proud of his squad, which was discounted early after losing heavily at graduation from last year’s 8-4 team that made it to sectionals.

“At the beginning of the year, no one gave us a chance to do anything…and that we’d be the doormat of the league,” he said. “We ended up finishing second in the league and first in our district, and then won bi-district easily and gave a valiant effort (against Sedan).

“We fought to the bitter end,” Young added. “Even when the end was in sight, we didn’t quit. We kept trying.

“They were a great group.”

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