WOOD RIVER — The Wood River defense gave up some big plays against Grand Island Central Catholic.
But the Eagles made the key plays at the right times.
Despite giving up 338 yards to the Crusaders, Wood River forced six turnovers, five of which were fumbles, to help the Eagles prevail 18-14 Friday night.
Wood River coach Jeff Ashby said it was nice for the Eagles to force those turnovers after giving up four in last week’s 26-14 loss to Centura. Wood River turned three of those turnovers into scores against GICC.
“We did struggle with our pass defense a little bit, but fortunately we were able to force some turnovers tonight,” he said. “That’s what hurt us last week, which included three of our last four possessions when we were leading. It was a game of turnovers but we were fortunate they had a little more.”
GICC coach Tim Dvorak said mistakes continue to haunt the Crusaders. To go with the turnovers, they were penalized five times for 50 yards and missed two field goals.
“Mistakes are killing us,” Dvorak said. “And it’s happening in key situations. And it’s talented kids making mistakes. We need to understand situational football.”
The key moment came in the third quarter after the Crusaders took a 14-6 lead on a Russell Martinez 3-yard run. GICC forced Wood River to punt, but the football touched Brayton Johnson as he was trying to field the ball and the Eagles recovered at the Crusader 19-yard line.
Six plays later, Cayleb Stewart scored from seven yards. The Eagles missed the two-point conservation to trail 14-12.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wood River recovered a GICC fumble. Four plays later, the Eagles took the lead on a Austin Buettner 18-yard pass from Ty Swanson.
The Crusaders still had a chance in the fourth quarter after stopping Wood River twice on fourth down but couldn’t take advantage.
Two plays after the first stop, Wood River got the ball back after Cade Huxtable intercepted a Martinez pass.
The Crusaders stopped Wood River again and this time threatened. Martinez, who was 13 of 20 for 230 yards, threw a 33-yard pass to Reid Martinez, then an 11-yard pass to Zach Cloud to put at the Eagle 25-yard line.
But the Wood River defense came through as they stripped Martinez and recovered the fumble on the play to preserve the win.
To go along with Martinez’ passing numbers, he also had 17 carries for 103 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“He makes a lot of things happen for them,” Ashby said. “He makes a lot of people miss and he knows how to keep plays alive for them. Fortunately, we made enough pressure on him to force him into some mistakes.”
Wood River was effective with its running game, especially in the first quarter when they used most of the clock. After the Eagles lost a fumble, they got it right back on the ensuing play after recovering a Martinez fumble.
They used a 14-play drive, 13 of which came on the ground, to get on the board first. Ty Swanson scored on a 1-yard run. For the game, Trey Zessin had 22 carries for 92 yards and Gideon Luehr had 14 carries for 47 yards.
Ashby said the goal is still alive for the Eagles to finish the season with a winning record for the second straight season as they are now 3-4 on the year.
“That hasn’t happen at Wood River since the early 1993 and 1994,” he said. “We have two more games left in the season and hopefully we can finish it out with two more wins.”
Dvorak said the Crusaders need to start believing again as they have lost four straight games after starting the season 3-0.
“We have kids who will fight to the end but we need to mature mentally, understand situational football and importantly, understand how good we can be,” Dvorak said. “Once we believe, the sky’s the limit. We just got to believe and I don’t think our kids believe that right now.”
GICC plays at Gibbon, while Wood River plays at Hershey next Friday.