Sullivan South's Cade East (53) gets a first-half sack of Gate City quarterback Hunter Collier (10). The Blue Devils' signal caller rushed for 183 yards and four TDs while passing for 189 and a scoring strike. Jonathan McCoy photo
GATE CITY — Thanks to seemingly unstoppable Gate City quarterback Hunter Collier, the Blue Devils got within six points of upsetting Sullivan South at Legion Field on Friday night.
Thanks to Rebels linebacker Lukas Strickler and his defensive teammates, a storybook finish for Collier was denied.
The fourth-and-long sack of Gate City’s scrambling signal-caller with less than a minute remaining in the game ended the threat and preserved a 40-35 non-conference win for South.
“I came down from outside linebacker and started playing at defensive tackle in a five-technique to try to keep (Collier) contained,” said Strickler, who lent the Rebels 60 yards rushing on the offensive side of the football.
“We had great backside pressure to flush him right to me. Me and Carter Trinkle and Cade East, we took him down. He’s quick and he’s elusive, but we rounded him up pretty good,” Strickler said.
The game-winning play was the second sack that East got in on for South. But up until that point, not many of the setbacks the Rebels engineered for Collier lasted very long.
Collier had a phenomenal night for the winless Blue Devils (0-3). He passed for 180 yards, including a 34-yard scoring strike to Matthew McClung under heavy pressure. After Isaac Salyer’s point-after kick, Gate City was within six of victory with six minutes left in the game.
Collier also rushed for 183 yards, including touchdown runs of 18, 2, 3 and 4 yards.
He had a drive-saving 11-yard scramble to preserve the Blue Devils’ final possession of the first half. Collier hit 8 of 8 passing attempts during that two-minute drill that trimmed South’s halftime lead to 21-14.
Collier’s 21-yard, third-down scamper to the Rebels’ 20 looked like more of the same for what was shaping up as Gate City’s final series of the game.
Instead South gave the Blue Devils nothing to show for three snaps. Then less than nothing. Game over.
“We just lined up and left it all out on the field. We did the best we can,” Collier said.
“Some things didn’t go as we planned. But I couldn’t be more proud of my team, obviously.”
One of the things that didn’t go as planned was Grant Ward’s pick-6 off Collier’s first pass attempt of the second half.
“I told our kids, I’m proud of the way we fought. But we’ve still got to correct some mistakes. We need to take care of the ball a little bit better,” said Gate City coach Bill Houseright, whose team lost a fumble to Ahmad Lovell in the first quarter to set up South’s first touchdown of the game.
Coupled with Noah Rutherford’s PAT kick, Ward’s 18-yard interception return had South up 28-14 with 11:51 to go in the third period.
While Collier made good use of his time, so did the ground-pounding Rebels offense, which managed to keep South (3-1) just a step ahead of Gate City’s three second-half touchdowns.
Rebels quarterback Ethan Ward passed economically for 73 yards, including a 20-yard completion to Cooper Jones that set up Tyler Cole’s 1-yard TD plunge.
Ethan Ward rushed for 55 yards, including a 3-yard scoring run in the second quarter and another 3-yard TD run in the fourth.
“We knew Gate City was tough. They’re a physical team and they always have been. We had to match that intensity and our guys did an excellent job tonight,” Ethan Ward said.
Behind South’s veteran offensive front, the ground attack was by committee.
Cole, who also had a 2-yard TD crash in the first half, had six carries for 18 yards. Lovell had 38 yards rushing, Ben Perry had 34 and Hunter Haren had 27 on just a couple of carries.
South kick returner Josh Johnson had the special teams play of the night, returning a Collier punt 68 yards to set up the Rebels’ final score of the game.
“That was a heck of a football game. My hat’s off to Gate City. They played hard. Our kids played hard,” said South coach Sam Haynie.
“Our kids kept hanging in there . I made a few stupid decisions and they bailed me out ... so it’s a good night for South,” he said.comments powered by Disqus