Commanders stand 5-2 -
LEBANON – When the final horn had sounded and each squad followed protocol with the obligatory handshakes and other post-ritual, Friendship Christian School trotted off Pirtle Field Friday night with a 55-7 win over Grace Christian Academy.
But for Coach John O’Neal, the victory was only a portion of his goal for his Commanders. A very important portion, but not everything.
“First of all, we came out of the game healthy,” O’Neal said as his team heads into its second week of fall break with an open date ahead next week.
“There is no doubt that we came out a little sluggish, and we didn’t have the intensity that you would like, but some of that is my fault. This past week has been very hot, probably as hot as any week we’ve faced this season, and we just weren’t as sharp as you would like.”
While the Commanders, the 2018 state runners-up in Division II-A, upped their record to 5-2, they didn’t score a point against winless GCA, now 0-7, until midway of the second quarter.
But when FCS found the end zone, it took off on a fast track that saw the team run out to a 34-0 lead by intermission.
Leading the charge was senior Justin Seagraves, a running back masquerading as a quarterback, a move that arose out of necessity a few weeks ago when junior Camden Hayslip, the projected starter, suffered a preseason injury and has been out since that time.
All Seagraves did was rush for 184 yards on nine carries with second-quarter touchdown jaunts of 44, 10 and 54 yards.
When he threw the ball, he was accurate, too, connecting on 3-of-4 attempts for 44 yards and a 12-yard scoring strike to Andrew Mathis.
“We didn’t get started well,” Seagraves understatingly said after FCS had the ball for only five offensive plays in the first quarter for a total of 14 yards.
However, as the team warmed up the pace of the game, the Commanders put together five scores in a span of six minutes and 53 seconds.
“I feel like I’m comfortable in the pocket and making throws,” Seagraves said, “but I still like running the ball.
“Sometimes, it is what the defense gives you and what the offensive line can make happen for you. Tonight, we were just running the ball well,” he added after the Commanders picked up 283 yards rushing.
Grace Christian, amazingly, had 75 offensive plays compared to 23 for FCS, thanks in large part to the heroics of junior quarterback Ashton Kelley.
Kelley completed 22-of-41 passes for 246 yards, but his protection was lacking. He ended up with a minus 59 yards in rushing as the Commanders pressured him all night.
“We’ve got a good group that is hard-working and tough,” GCA Coach Rusty Smith, a former Tennessee Titans quarterback, said.
“They love each other and they love the game of football. They’re dedicated.
“But we do have some issues. It’s difficult when you play games against schools with veterans, like Friendship. With the exception of eight players, all of the players on our team are freshman and sophomores. Our older players are doing a good job of leading well, and some of the younger one are developing into good leaders, too.”
With FCS enjoying a second week of fall break and no game until Oct. 18, McNeal said he’s taking a brief vacation and giving his team some time off, with the hope that some of his injured players can heal.
“By this time of year, you usually have injuries take a toll. But this break comes at a good time, giving us a chance to get back some of our players who have been hurt and not at full strength,” he said.
“I just think it’s something we all need.”