Mill Creek’s offense was overshadowed early by McEachern, but the Hawks scored on their first three possessions of the second half to rally for a 23-19 victory Saturday in the teams’ season opener in the the Corky Kell Classic at Georgia State Stadium.
Quarterback Brady Longenecker, making his first start, threw two touchdown passes in the second half and Matt Campbell kicked a 39-yard field goal for Mill Creek, which was outgained 323-62 in the first half but trailed just 19-7. The Mill Creek defense came to the life in the second half as well, holding the Indians to 71 yards in the final two quarters.
“You couldn’t start a game worse than the way we did,” Mill Creek coach Shannon Jarvis said. “They were up by two touchdowns before we took an offensive snap. And I don’t know why, but I wasn’t panicking and the coaches weren’t panicking. There was no chaos on the sideline. We just wanted to play through it. Our biggest concern was not letting it get away from us in the first half.”
It looked like it might, for a while. McEachern scored on its first possession, driving 80 yards in five plays for a 6-0 lead on a 43-yard run by senior quarterback Malik Evans less than a minute into the game.
The Indians recovered the ensuing kickoff, a short pooch kick in the middle of the field, and took possession on the Mill Creek 34. They scored on the next play on a pass from Isaiah Lee to Ali Scott and had a 13-0 lead. Mill Creek had yet to run an offensive play.
Mill Creek began to swing the momentum later in the quarter when Jon Gipson picked up a McEachern punt, which the Indians were trying to down near the end zone, and ran 97 yards for a touchdown. McEachern increased the lead to 19-7 on Evans’ 41-yard touchdown run with 3:44 remaining in the half and could have made it worse, but Longenecker hustled back after throwing an interception and made a touchdown-saving tackle on Nasier Sudler’s return, bringing him down at the 18-yard line on the final play of the half.
Mill Creek got the ball at its 20 on its first possession of the second half and drove 80 yards in 15 plays, cutting the lead to 19-14 on a 10-yard pass from Longenecker to Andrew Johns with 6:05 to play in the third quarter. Campbell’s field goal five minutes later cut the lead to 19-17.
The Hawks took the lead for the first time in the game when Longenecker threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Cole Wroble with 5:39 to play. Mill Creek missed on a two-point attempt but led 23-19.
The Indians had two more possessions to retake the lead but never got beyond their 44-yard line.
Longenecker finished 15-for-23 passing for 134 yards with two interceptions. Rafael Morales led the Hawks with 63 yards rushing on 17 carries, and Uriah Leverette added 48 yards.
McEachern used three quarterbacks in its search for a replacement for Bailey Hockman, the starter for most of the past four seasons who departed for Florida State after helping the Indians to a 42-11 record during his career. Senior Evans got the start, but sophomore Lee and freshman Carlos Delrio-Wilson rotated in early and often, at times changing with each play.
All three players had their moments. Evans ran for 81 yards and was 8-for-14 passing for 91 yards. Lee was 2-for-3 passing for 39 yards and had three carries for 17 yards. Delrio-Wilson ran for 30 yards and threw for 34 on 3-of-6 passing. Paris Brown rushed for 59 yards on 11 carries.
“Here’s the adjustments [at halftime] … ‘Do your keys on defense to account for the quarterback, and tackle,’ ” Jarvis said. “We had some opportunities to make big plays defensively where we didn’t tackle. So do those things defensively, and offensively continue the momentum.”
McEachern – 13-6-0-0 – 19
Mill Creek – 7-0-10-6 – 23
McE – Malik Evans 43 run (pass failed)
McE – Ali Scott 34 pass from Isaiah Lee (Roben Rodriquez kick)
MC – Jon Gipson 97 punt return (Alan Andrzejewski kick)
McE – Evans 41 run (pass failed)
MC – Andrew Johns 10 pass from Brady Longenecker (Andrzejewski kick)
MC – Matt Campbell 39 field goal
MC – Cole Wroble 7 pass from Longenecker (pass failed)