Before Thursday’s game against Therrell, Decatur’s locker room looked like one of those field infirmary tents Hemingway wrote about in his early fiction.
But from the carnage -- the ace bandages, tape, ice packs and sundry crutches -- two previously unknown players emerged.
Junior defensive end Jake Copenhaver, who’d barely played prior to Thursday, and freshman halfback Ellijah Rachell, who’d played sparingly, helped lead Decatur to a much-needed 19-6 victory, ending an excruciating three-game losing streak.
It was by no mean aesthetically satisfying, with 22 penalties (11 for each team) called during Thursday’s incessant drizzle at venerable Grady Stadium. In fact this one conformed to the same inexplicable blueprint common to each of Decatur’s five games.
The Bulldogs dominated Therrell in total offense (as they have most opponents this season) with 52 plays for 292 total yards to Therrell’s 49 plays for 83 yards. For Therrell, that's a microscopic 1.69 yards per play.
Yet they won by only 12 points, partly explained by a 24-yard interception return that halted one promising drive. Then there was a spectacular 42-yard pass reception by Klay Wisseh that ended in an unceremonious fumble that terminated another. This doesn’t even count several crucial dropped passes.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said head coach Price Jones, “and it some ways it was similar to all our other games. Except we won, and we needed it badly.”
One reason was Copenhaver, who moved from Nebraska during the summer. He was a one-man twister Thursday.
“I can’t say enough about that kid,” said defensive line coach Rod Saddler. “He showed great technique, he kept pressure on the quarterback, especially outside pressure. You didn’t see their quarterback[s] get outside on us like most have this year.”
That was certainly reflected in Therrell’s inconsequential total yardage, and also in its two quarterbacks combining to complete only four of 20 passes for 33 yards.”
Meanwhile, the freshman Rachell, essentially the team’s third-string tailback, had 70 yards on 10 carries, most of those tough, grind-it-out yards in the fourth quarter when Decatur needed to chew up valuable time.
It was a rushing effort badly needed on a night when second-string tailback Demarcus Brundrage went down with a sprained ankle. Tailback Tommy Renfroe, who was supposed to be the rookie sensation of this season, has played very little (and none at all on Thursday) because of chronic knee problem.
But the worst news of all came this week when Decatur learned that fullback/linebacker Nick Bentley, one of the team’s top three or four players even though he’s only a sophomore, is done for the season with a fractured growth plate above his knee.
After the game Jones contemplated moving wide receiver Terryon Robinson to tailback next week. After a spectacular game two weeks ago against Riverwood, Robinson’s been double and triple-teamed the last two games and has only caught one pass. That came Thursday, a 13-yard laser over the middle from quarterback Vito Antinozzi for a touchdown with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
But that was all he got, and in fact Antinozzi threw his way only two other times all night.
“We’ve got to get the ball in Terryon’s hands,” Jones said. “One way is that we might throw him some more screens. But tailback is a definite option.”
Decatur’s first score came with 5:42 left in the first quarter, a 42-yard sideline spiral from Antinozzi to Terez Cowan to make it 7-0. That was the half’s only score though Decatur had 197 first half yards to Therrell’s 30.
After Decatur had a first and goal at Therrell’s four, and after gaining three paltry yards on three plays, and after losing five more yards on an illegal procedure, Jason Barefoot made it 10-0 with 7:29 left in the third on a 24-yard field goal.
He rounded out the scoring with a 44-yard field goal late in the game, Decatur’s longest field goal in recent memory.
Antinozzi showed increasing maturity with one of the best all-around games of his still-fledgling career, completing 8 of 18 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns, while also running 11 times for 55 yards. Besides Terez Cowan’s touchdown reception, identical twin Perez Cowan had a 22-yard catch.
Decatur improves to 2-3, while Therrell remains winless in four games.
Next Friday the Bulldogs travel to Buford to play without question the state’s most dominant football program in the last decade.
Buford has won seven AA state championships in the last 10 years, including the last four in a row, with a cumulative record of 138-6. Things are no different in 2011. Heading into tonight’s game against Lovett, the Wolves are 5-0 and have outscored their opponents 224-14.
Not everyone admires Buford, with whispers that it has a recruiting budget that would make Kentucky basketball coach John Callipari green with envy. But whatever its methods for stockpiling talent, there’s no question Buford attracts many out-of-district athletes, a practice that gets, at best, a mixed response from prep football fans.
Kickoff next Friday is 7:30 p.m.