Decatur coach Brad Waggoner said Saturday night, after his team’s 42-21 loss to Cedar Grove, that “we’re close, but we’re not there yet.”
He thought a moment longer before adding, “I can’t really say that Cedar Grove beat us. We stopped our own self. Too much miscommunication and too many missed assignments.”
Many of those came in the first 6:25 at Panthersville Stadium. Before many in the crowd had settled into their seats, Cedar Grove took a 21-0 lead on two Decatur’s turnovers and a questionable fourth down call.
Led by Johnathan McCrary, perhaps the state’s best prep quarterback, Cedar Grove rolled up 468 yards total offense to Decatur’s 280.
On the very first play after kickoff, Decatur quarterback Devontae Carter threw a screen that was easily picked and returned to Decatur’s 23. It was only Carter’s second interception all year.
“We had that play perfectly set,” Waggoner said, “and I think we would’ve gotten a long gain. I don’t know what happened except we didn’t block anybody, and [the Cedar Grove player] broke through, and that just set the tone for the whole night.”
In this the Region 6-AAA opener for both teams, Cedar Grove scored in four plays, the touchdown coming on an eight-yard toss from McCrary to his tight end.
On its next possession, Decatur faked a punt on fourth and 14 from its own 30, with Carter throwing a 30-yard pass that was caught, bobbled and finally dropped by Perez Cowan. Taking over on downs, Cedar Grove scored on three plays, with tailback Shane Ward crossing the goal on a five-yard plunge.
Decatur immediately fumbled during its next series. The very next play, a straight-ahead pitch from McCrary to another tailback, went 40 yards for a third consecutive touchdown.
With 5:35 left in the first quarter Cedar Grove had run all of eight plays and led 21-0.
“We have to figure this out,” Waggoner said. “We have to quit starting the game so slow. You can’t do it against anyone, but especially against a team this explosive.”
Decatur didn’t quit and even played some of its best defense all season, holding Cedar Grove scoreless over the next 26:39. When Mac Speed nailed a 20-yard field goal with 5:51 left in the third, the Bulldogs trailed only 21-15.
But the 6-4, 200-pound McCrary, like a shaken-up can of soda, couldn’t be contained for long. He erupted for touchdown passes of 16 yards (with 2:56 left in the third) and 10 yards (with 48 seconds left), then had another one of those straight-ahead pitches, this one going for 44 yards and a TD with 6:48 left in the game.
Decatur cornerback Terryon Robinson, nearly 100 percent after suffering a high-ankle sprain three weeks ago, intercepted two passes, but those were McCrary’s only flaws on this night. Throwing to five different receivers, he completed 15 of 24 passes for four touchdowns and 241 yards.
Nevertheless, Decatur had some high-water marks in this one. Perez Cowan caught three passes for 66 yards, including a 30-yard reception that set up Decatur’s second touchdown early in the second quarter. Senior Andrew Brown scored Decatur’s final touchdown early in the fourth on a 50-yard romp through an enormous left-side hole, and finished as Decatur’s leading ground gainer with 68 yards on seven carries.
Though he didn’t have his best game, sophomore quarterback Carter kept his poise all night, completing 11 of 20 passes for 147 yards. Robinson caught three of those passes for 35 yards.
Middle linebacker Nic Bentley led Decatur with six tackles and one assist and also played quite a bit of fullback. He scored Decatur’s first touchdown, ripping through for 11 yards with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
“We made a lot of mistakes but let’s face it, this is by far the best team we’ve played all year," Waggoner said. "Believe me, we’ll learn from this.”
Now 3-2 and 0-1, the Bulldogs finally return home for the first time in three weeks, playing Woodward Academy in a 7:30 p.m. Friday kickoff. Woodward is also 3-2 after its 21-14 loss to Blessed Trinity Friday night.