Sylvania offense, defense dominate first half in victory over Saks

Sylvania offense, defense dominate first half in victory over Saks
Sylvania running back Braiden Thomas carries the ball against Saks
Sylvania running back Braiden Thomas stiff-arms a Saks defender. | Mandy Helton / Special to Southern Torch
RAMS' defense controls line of scrimmage; offense gains 400 yards

By Roger Scott
For Southern Torch

SYLVANIA, Ala. –  The Sylvania Rams used a first half of balanced offense and smothering defense to build a lead over Saks that carried the team to a win.

Saks, from 3A, Region 4, visited Rams Stadium after beating Ohatchee in Week 1.

Sylvania head coach Tyler Vann said he saw some good things from his team after playing North Jackson in a jamboree game.

“Overall, in all three phases, there were a bunch of positives, and also some negatives that we have to get cleaned up,” said Vann.

Sylvania received the kick and opened its drive behind senior running back Braiden Thomas’ 15-yard run and 30-yard reception from junior quarterback Jaxon Smith.

After a Saks face mask penalty and another Thomas gain on the ground, Roman McKeehan took a screen pass from Smith 18 yards to open the scoring for the Rams with 9:50 left in the first quarter. The extra point was no good.

Sylvania’s defense clogged the middle on the Wildcats’ first drive and forced a punt at 7:28 left in the first quarter, as Saks couldn’t find much room to run.

The Rams chewed up more yards on the ground behind Smith, Thomas, and sophomore Aiden Parham. A 20-yard Smith completion to senior tight end Brant Kittle moved the Rams down to the 5-yard line.

Zack Anderson then took a handoff and ran around right end for the score. The extra point by Connor Andrade was good, bringing Sylvania’s lead to 13-0 with 3:32 left in the first quarter.

“Offensively, we moved [the Saks defense] well up front early in the game,” Vann said.

The Rams’ defense pressured quarterback Gavin Doss into a couple of incomplete passes on Saks’ next possession. The Wildcats punted with just over 1:00 left, and the quarter ended 13-0 in favor of Sylvania.

After runs by Thomas and Parham and a completion to Anderson, sophomore receiver Josh Scott hauled in a 29-yard pass from Smith for the touchdown.  The extra point was no good, and Sylvania held a 19-0 cushion.

With 6:40 left in the second quarter, Saks picked up its first first down of the game on a Gavin Doss pass and then pushed to the Rams 40-yard line on a run up the middle. The Wildcats’ offense couldn’t gain more yardage and were forced to punt.

Saks’ defense then forced a short punt on Sylvania’s possession and started a drive at the Rams’ 30-yard line. Doss completed a pass to receiver Trent Hopkins for a 10-yard gain.  The Wildcats pushed to the Sylvania 2-yard-line for a critical fourth-and-2 with :25 seconds left in the first half.

A host of Rams pressured the Saks quarterback into another incompletion and forced the change of possession. At the half, Sylvania led 19-0.

“We made them one-dimensional, which is what you want to do on defense,” Vann said. That was key to our success.”

Sylvania defensive players take a break during an injury timeout.
Sylvania defensive players take a break during an injury timeout. | Mandy Helton / Special to Southern Torch

The second half featured missed opportunities for the Sylvania offense. The Rams moved the ball to the Saks 15-yard line behind Thomas and Parham, but holding and false start penalties stalled the drive. Sylvania turned it over on downs at the 31-yard line with 4:30 left in the third quarter.

“The offense played really well at times, we just have to clean up penalties,” Vann said.

“We have to learn to fight through it and finish drives. We should have put up more points  than we did.”

The Rams’ defense again pressured Saks after a few short Wildcat gains to force a punt.

McKeehan, a sophomore, gained 38 yards on a pass from Smith, and Parham took a flip from Smith and moved the Rams to the Saks 6-yard line. Smith couldn’t connect on a pass to Kittle in the end zone, and another holding penalty stalled the drive. Andrade was a little short on a 38-yard field goal attempt and Sylvania again turned it over on downs.

Griffin Haygood made a diving interception on the next play to end Saks’ drive and shift momentum back to Sylvania just before the end of the third quarter.

“I thought we tackled well, and made some tackles in space,” Vann said.

In the fourth quarter, Sylvania just missed a scoring toss to Thomas and again turned the ball over on downs with 9:57 in the fourth quarter.

Saks found room to move the ball in the fourth quarter. Doss, a junior, completed a pass to Hopkins for the touchdown with 8:09 left in the game. The extra point was no good, leaving the score at 19-6 in favor of the Rams.

The Wildcats stopped the Rams offense on its next possession, but Saks was pinned on its own 4-yard line by Drenon Townsel’s 50-yard punt.

Saks again moved the ball with a long pass to Hopkins, but the Wildcats couldn’t finish the drive and were forced to punt.

Sylvania then ran time off the clock, punted, and closed out the game on defense.

“There are things that we have to clean up… but we will take a win over a loss any day of the week,” Vann said.

The Rams totaled more than 400 yards of offense. Thomas led Sylvania’s ground attack with 126 yards on 22 carries, while Parham earned 69 yards on 10 carries. Smith finished with 172 yards through the air. Anderson scored a rushing touchdown, and McKeehan and Scott each finished with a touchdown reception.

Sylvania goes on the road for a critical 3A, Region 6 matchup at Piedmont this week. Saks will host its Region 4 foe Beulah.

Leave a comment