Ryan Flynn – Sports Editor –
Everything was clicking. The defense was getting stops and the offense looked the best it had all season, opening up a two-touchdown lead against St. Augustine. What followed was one letdown after another as St. Augustine’s (2-1) stormed back to score 30 unanswered points. The Owls, still winless, fell 30-14 Saturday in the Harmony Classic at Jess Dow Field.
The unique game pit the Owls (0-3) against a team from North Carolina and drew a crowd of 3,007. The opening drive for Southern was just one play long, as junior quarterback Jacob Jablonski immediately threw his first interception of the day.
From then on, however, things began to look up. The Owls forced a quick punt and began their best offensive drive of the day: an 11-play, 80-yard drive ending in a 1-yard Vaughn Magee rushing touchdown. Southern did a good job of mixing up the run and a short-to-intermediate passing game. Jablonski responded well to his early interception, moving well in the pocket and showing poise. The junior went 5-for-5 for 56 yards on the drive as he led his team to an early 7-0 lead.
“Jablonski did some good things today,” head coach Rich Cavanaugh said. “He had a couple of turnovers but at times he threw the ball pretty well.”
After forcing another Falcons punt, the Southern offense went back to work. A 46-yard pass from Jablonski to wide receiver Vito Fornarelli set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jayson Holt.
It was all Falcons from there.
St. Augustine’s outscored the Owls 16-0 in the second quarter, mostly thanks to an effective rushing attack. Roderick Davenport in particular was a thorn in the Owls’ side, running for 86 yards on just 12 carries.
“We showed up in the first quarter, we played well and then it was like we just went home in the second half and just really didn’t perform,” Jablonski said.
Run defense would continue to be an issue in the second half, where the Falcons rang up 118 yards to the Owls’ 50. After a scoreless third quarter, the Falcons opened the fourth with a 24-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tyron Laughinghouse, who caught a quick pass and made a man miss before running open to the endzone.
“We just gotta learn to make sure we stay in it, that’s all,” senior Owls cornerback Steven Teague said. “As long as you stay in it and keep working hard as a team and trust your teammates, everything should be good.”
Trailing 23-14 with just over fourteen minutes to play, the Owls were still very much alive. Vaughn Magee, who had another solid day with 104 yards rushing and the aforementioned touchdown, was heavily relied on during an 8-play, 71 yard drive that halted at the Falcons’ one yard line. On fourth down, a quarterback sneak attempt by Jablonski was stopped, and the Owls turned the ball over on downs.
St. Augustine’s took over and promptly punted, giving the Owls great field position at the opposing 33. Again, the team moved the ball down to the Falcons’ six yard line and then stalled following a stuffed run and two Jablonski incompletions.
Down nine with five minutes left in the game, Cavanaugh took the unconventional approach to again try to convert the fourth down rather than kick a field goal. Jablonski’s pass was batted down to give St. Augustine’s the ball back.
Their ensuing nine-play drive, capped off by a 54-yard Davenport rushing touchdown all but iced the game.
“Really it just comes down to beating the guy in front of you,” Jablonski said. “That’s one thing coach preaches—just having it in practice and then carrying it over to the game. We need to compete and to beat the guys in front of us and that’s all we really need to do.”
Next up for Southern is Merrimack College on Saturday 9/22 in North Andover, MA.
The Owls try for their first win of the 2012 campaign. They will also look to avenge the heartbreaking 28-27 loss that Merrimack handed them at the end of last season, which the Owls finished 7-3.