KINGWOOD — It was definitely fabulous fall football weather at Knights Stadium on Friday night when Preston hosted Class AA East Fairmont. With both teams falling to North Marion by similar scores this year, the match up looked to be even on paper.
And for once, that’s how it played out on the field in the first half, and in total offense for both teams. But there was another numbers game that had a big part in this one — roster size, as the Knights, with 20 fewer helmets on their sideline, ran out of gas in the second half, falling to the Bees, 28-14.
The Knights (0-4) got off to a rough start, as an opening possession three-and-out was exacerbated by a poor punt snap, giving the Bees (3-2) excellent field position at the PHS 19. East Fairmont quarterback Ian Crookshanks bucked over from the 2 for a quick 7-0 lead. But the Preston offense — especially the offensive line — responded with consecutive solid touchdown drives of 62 yards (capped by quarterback Dillon Taylor’s 12-yard run) and 80 yards. The go-ahead score came from an electrifying 41-yard touchdown run from running back Ethan Harper, who flashed through a gaping hole on the right side, then cut back to the left and raced to the pylon for a 14-7 lead.
However, despite back-to-back interceptions from Riley Land and Taylor, the Knights offense could not take advantage of the momentum and field position boosts, and a PHS fumble at midfield midway through the second quarter allowed the Bees offense to drive on a short field to knot the score at 14-14. Crookshanks hooked up with Dominic Fantasia on a well-executed screen pass from the Knights’ 25-yard line, and the big sophomore back read his blocks well and skirted the left sideline for the touchdown.
The Bees took the second half kickoff and drove all the way to the Knights’ 10, only to fumble the ball away. It appeared that Preston took the lead on an 80-yard run from Harper, but a critical pre-snap penalty — one of several from PHS on both sides of the ball — negated the score. The next sequence of possessions proved the difference in the game, as the Bees returned a short punt to the Preston 25 and scored on Crookshanks’ 3-yard bull run to forge a 21-14 lead.
Then, late in the third quarter, on third-and-long Taylor burst through the middle on a long run to midfield for the Knights’, only to have the ball stolen away by EF linebacker Gage Dean, who returned the fumble 48 yards down the near sideline for a backbreaking touchdown.
The exhausted Knights couldn’t prevent the Bees from grinding down most of the fourth quarter clock, and a last-ditch drive was stopped in the EF red zone as time ran out.
Harper led all rushers with 116 yards on 13 carries and a TD, while Taylor ran for 103 yards and a score and passed for another 105 yards through the air for the Knights.
PHS coach Mark Deep had a long heart-to-heart with his disappointed team after the game, and after three disastrous turnovers and a whopping 14 penalties, it’s not surprising what the main topic was.
“Critical mistakes at critical times have killed us all season,” he said, “and it killed us again tonight. We know we’re gonna make mistakes, but the pre-snap penalties are all about concentration, and we need to limit them much more. We did some good things on offense, and moved the ball pretty well at times. But we have to hold ourselves accountable, and clean up the preventable errors.
“That’s on us, and even though we’re young and learning, we have to get better. We fought until the final whistle, and competed well. We won’t dwell on it, and we’ll stay positive, but I think we let this one get away.”
The Knights travel to Woodrow Wilson next Friday.
East Fairmont (3-2) 7 7 14 0 – 28
Preston (0-4) 14 0 0 0 – 14
1st Q – EF Ian Crookshanks 2 run (Connor Tingler kick)
PHS Dillon Taylor 12 run (Cole Turner kick)
PHS Ethan Harper 41 run (Turner kick)
2nd Q – EF Dominic Fantasia 25 pass from Crookshanks (Tingler kick)
3rd Q – EF Crookshanks 3 run (Tingler kick)
EF Gage Dean 48 fumble return (Tingler kick)
EF – Crookshanks 22-31-2 160 TD. PHS – Taylor 9-20-1 105.
EF – Crookshanks 26-92 2TD, Fantasia 10-65, Total 36-157 2TD.
PHS- Taylor 13-103 TD Harper 13-116 TD, Shelden Miller 4-10, Ethan Likens 3-5, Riley Land 1- (-2), Total 34-222 2TD.
EF – Alex Culp 7-73, Fantasia 3-20, Evan Bartholow 8-49, Avery Brown 3-13, Hoyt Michael 1-5
PHS – Levi Loudermilk 1-15, Harper 3-44, Aiden Schmidle 2-13, Slaton Manko 1-13, Miller 2-20.
EF 1 (Dean), PHS 2 (Land, Taylor)