Ryan Flynn – Sports Editor –
On senior day at Jess Dow Field, facing 6-2 Bentley, it looked like the Owls, losers of three straight, had another win within their grasp. Bentley had fumbled three times and thrown a red zone interception. Up 14-10, Southern was driving.
And then it happened.
The ball was snapped over the head of freshman quarterback Michael Eckrote, filling in for an injured Jacob Jablonski. Eckrote couldn’t fall on the ball in time and the pile of Falcons defenders tipped the football backwards before recovering in the Southern endzone.
Another late score gave Bentley a 24-14 win and ended what has been a long and frustrating season for Owls football. The team will finish 2-8.
“It was a tough one today,” senior cornerback Steven Teague said. “We really played together as a team, it came down to the last wire. We came a long way, we fought. All my seniors here today, we just went out here real hard and gave it everything we got.”
The game plan was more than sound. Without Jablonski at the helm, the Owls rode workhorse back Vaughn Magee, who finished with 83 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Magee’s success allowed Eckrote to throw almost exclusively out of play action. The freshman struggled early on but began to get into a rhythm in the second half, even throwing his first career touchdown to junior wide receiver Carlton Staggars.
On this day, Bentley simply could not hold on to the ball. The team’s three fumbles were one of the factors that led to Southern winning the field position battle all game long. This, along with head coach Rich Cavanaugh’s propensity to run the ball early and often to keep his young quarterback out of difficult situations, put the team in position to pull off the upset victory. Two bad snaps, later, though, and all of that hard work was undone.
Back to back drives in the fourth quarter ended when the ball was snapped over Eckrote’s head and the quarterback was unable to fall on the ball to recover.
“It pretty much comes down to that. It comes down to turnovers,” Cavanaugh said. “We were winning the turnover battle, unfortunately we had a couple of costly turnovers at the wrong time.”
Eight seniors suited up for the last time as members of Owls football on Saturday: tight end Jerome Cunningham, receiver Jayson Holt, receiver Willie Epps, linebacker Nathan Tyler, cornerback Steven Teague, linebacker Jack Cooper, tight end Robert Moores and offensive linemen William Chaffin, Jeffrey Querusio, Antonio Carter and Spencer Charette.
Epps especially had a stellar career with the team, catching over 30 passes per season for a total of 2,893 yards and 27 touchdowns.
“Coming in as a freshman, you learn the tradition of Southern football and that stuck with me throughout my whole entire career,” Epps said. “It’s meant a lot to me to play for Southern, Coach Cav and these guys. I played my heart out my entire career and I don’t regret anything. It’s not how I wanted my last season to go but, that’s how things go sometimes. It’s meant a lot to me and I’m glad I left a mark on this program and hopefully some of the young guys learned a lot from me too.”