Keenan coach Quin McCollum hopes Friday night turns into a learning experience for his program. The Raiders suffered five turnovers – two that were returned for touchdowns – in a 35-12 loss to Timberland in the Class 2A, Division II state championship at River Bluff High.
It was the first football title game appearance for Keenan.
“Keenan is trying to get to where these guys are every year,” McCollum said “It was a big step for us and a big step for the program, but hats off to Timberland. We’re trying to establish a program, and this is part of the growing pains. I think we’re going places, though.”
Timberland won its second state championship and finished a season undefeated for the first time. That was something Timberland coach Art Craig didn’t shy away from since early in the season.
“After we beat Berkeley, we challenged our kids weekly to be undefeated,” Craig said. “We told them we’ve had a state championship but being undefeated with a state championship is something they would be the first team at the school to ever do that.”
The Wolves (14-0) used a dominating defense to win their first title since 2011. They held the Raiders’ explosive attack to two scores and 322 yards.
“Our defense was lights-out tonight,” Craig said. “That was probably one of the most talented offensive teams we’ve seen all year long. Our defense just took over. That’s why I punted so many times on short-yardage situations. I was hoping they wouldn’t be able to overcome some of that. A lot of people didn’t give us credit, because a lot of the shutouts were against lesser opponents, but they’ve been unbelievable all season long.”
Keenan (10-4) never got going offensively because of the five turnovers and a blocked punt that led to a score. Two of the turnovers were returned for scores for the fast, physical Timberland defense.
The Raiders received the opening kick but two plays later, Josh Alston snagged a fumble out of the air and raced 41 yards to give the Wolves a touchdown lead 46 seconds into the contest.
The lead increased to 21-0 by early in the second quarter. Alston set up the second score with a blocked punt to give the Wolves possession at the Keenan 35. Darelle Pressley capped the six-play drive with a 10-yard run to make it 14-0 before Ryan Hood connected with Daniel Robinson on a 40-yard scoring strike with 9:21 remaining in the half.
“If you turn the ball over against a quality opponent like this, you can expect them to capitalize, and that’s what they did,” McCollum said.
The Raiders were slow to get their offense going. They had four three-and-outs on the first six possessions and had to convert a fourth-and-26 from their 14-yard line in theiri only scoring drive of the first half. Kendrick Gathers ran for 49 yards on the fake punt, then caught a 57-yard scoring pass from D’Marco Ziegler to put Keenan on the board with 7:15 remaining in the half.
Gathers, a North-South All-Star selection, finished with 61 yards rushing and 82 yards receiving in the losing effort. He thought the experience factor played a difference.
“We came up short, but we thank everybody for the support and opportunity,” Gathers said. “It just wasn’t to be. They were more focused. They’ve been on this stage before and we haven’t and I think that played a big difference.”
The Wolves increased the lead to three scores on a 1-yard run by Brandon Simmons early in the third quarter after the Raiders failed to convert a fourth down deep in their own territory. Keenan finished 3-of-16 on third downs and 3-of-7 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
Keenan got within 28-12 on a 2-yard scoring run by Tyreick Davis-Newton, but Timberland’s Za’Von Whitaker sealed it with a 24-yard interception return with 5:46 remaining.
McCollum, in his second year as the coach at Keenan, hopes this goes a long ways toward building his program.
“I can’t be more proud of the guys. It was an emotional moment, and I’m just glad we got this far,” he said. “We’ll take a little break with a couple of weeks off just to get away from it, then we’ll come back to the drawing board to revamp and get ready for next year.”
T – Josh Alston 41 fumble return (Morgan Timmons kick) 11:14
T – Darelle Pressley 10 run (Timmons kick) 3:42
T – Daniel Robinson 40 pass from Ryan Hood (Timmons kick) 9:21
K – Kendrick Gathers 57 pass from D’Marco Ziegler (run failed) 7:15
T – Brandon Simmons 1 run (Timmons kick) 8:13
K – Tyreick Davis-Newton 2 run (run failed) 10:30
T – Za’Von Whitaker 24 interception return (Timmons kick) 5:46
Rushing: K – Kendrick Gathers 4-61, Tyreick Davis-Newton 17-51, Tiski Gray 4-13, D’Marco Ziegler 15-9. T – Daniel Robinson 10-51, Brandon Simmons 10-38, Drake Campbell 5-19, Ryan Hood 7-19, Darelle Pressley 5-15, Joseph Moultrie 2-8, TEAM 2-(-2).
Passing: K – Ziegler 8-26-2-187; Deion Trezevant 1-1-0-1. T – Hood 3-6-0-67.
Receiving: Gathers 4-82, Khi Baker 2-54, Jalon Wilson 2-33, Gray 1-19. T – Robinson 2-65, Roger Rembert 1-2.