Only two things could have stopped the Evans Middle School football team from achieving gridiron perfection last week - the visitors from Riverside Middle School and the Knights themselves.
Evans Middle was in a charitable mood in Tuesday's season finale. Riverside's Eagles were poised to spoil the homecoming festivities, but the Knights finally secured an 8-6 victory to post a perfect 6-0 record in 2003.
"They had every opportunity to lose this game, and they just wouldn't lose it," Evans Middle School coach Carter Morris said. "They fought and made the plays when they had to."
The Knights committed five turnovers, and ran just four offensive plays in the first and third quarters combined. Riverside, meanwhile, controlled the ball on offense, yet could not pull off the upset.
Evans scored on its initial play from scrimmage, as running back Zach Boulineau broke a 61-yard touchdown run. Kevin Millward tacked on a two-point conversion run to give the Knights an 8-0 lead less than a minute into the matchup.
What proved to be the winning points became more like a burden for the Knights.
"We thought it would be easy after we scored that first touchdown," Evans Middle lineman Reese Glisson said. "There was a lot of pressure."
Road to Perfection
Evans 40, Columbia 8
Evans 28, Greenbrier 6
Evans 42, Harlem 8
Evans 40, Lakeside 14
Evans 22, Grovetown 16
Evans 8, Riverside 6
Riverside turned up the heat in the second quarter. Evans fumbled away a punt, and the Eagles embarked on a 40-yard scoring drive. On fourth down, quarterback Chase Huffman passed to Nick Richards for a first down, which set up a touchdown run by Ryan Larisey.
The two-point try failed, and Evans was up 8-6 at the half. Riverside had the momentum, and the Knights had something to talk about at halftime.
During the break, Morris told his players to wrap up the football - and to firmly grasp their destiny in the second half.
"It's up to you," Morris told the Knights. "What kind of season are you going to end up with?"
The answer arrived in the fourth quarter.
Evans Middle's Chris Marshall intercepted a pass and appeared to race for a 90-yard touchdown, but the play was nullified by an interference penalty on the Knights.
Riverside received a first-and-goal from the 10. The Eagles didn't find the end zone, as Kevin Millward picked off a pass to give the Knights possession.
From there, Evans powered for two first downs, then ran out the clock to record the team's first unbeaten season since 1997.
"I can't put this season into words," Boulineau said. "It's been great."
Evans Middle's offensive struggles on Tuesday were offset by a stellar defensive effort by the Knights. Eric Voldness recovered a fumble in the Evans end zone and Millward recorded the key interception to thwart the last Riverside threat; recording tackles for losses were Voldness, Boulineau, Millward, Nathan Kratz, Orry Lewless, Jonathan Nicely and Deronte Williams.
"I think the defense won the game for us," Glisson said. "We played really well."
After the nerve-wracking contest, and just before the Evans Middle cheerleading squad distributed gift bags to the players, the celebration was spirited, yet somehow subdued - there was reason to cheer, but there also was a sense of relief.
"You get known if you're 6-0, but if you're 5-1 you're just an ordinary team," Glisson said. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life. We'll try to go undefeated in high school, too."
That's what several Evans High School assistant football coaches are hoping for. They addressed the Evans Middle School players Tuesday and encouraged the young Knights to keep working hard.
"An undefeated season is a great achievement," Evans High coach Mike Bibee said. "We look forward to you coming to Evans High School. You'll make us a better team, and we'll be glad you're there."
The eighth-grade players had just finished their middle-school careers, but they can't wait till next year.
"We're totally committed to football. That's the reason we're out here," Boulineau said. "I think we'll do well in high school."
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