On Saturday night, the Walnut Springs Hornets put a hurting on the visiting Mount Calm Panthers to keep homecoming spirits high.
The Hornets (4-3) were tremendous in the first half to go up 41-0, and then the Panthers were able to make some plays and hang around until the 45-point rule went into effect midway through the fourth quarter for a 59-12 result.
“The guys really came out ready to play,” said coach Tim Trotter. “I tried to get them to focus on the game and not worry about (homecoming) distractions, but enjoy it all, too. We really played well on defense in the first half.”
Speaking of defense, the Hornets won the turnover battle 6-2, recovering three fumbles and snagging three interceptions.
“We made some good moves on the ball (defensively Saturday),” Trotter said. “I was proud of the guys. We got some quick pressure on their quarterback and caused some bad throws.”
The Hornets ran the ball 22 times for 172 yards and added 116 passing yards on 13 attempts. The Panthers gained 114 rushing yards on 29 carries and threw for 120 yards, but completed just seven of 23 passes.
Quarterback Zane Trotter completed seven of 12 passes for 116 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He added 35 rushing yards. On defense, Trotter had a 46-yard interception return touchdown, a fumble recovery, a sack and a tackle for loss.
“We had several players (including myself) sick (Saturday), but we came out for homecoming and played great,” Zane said. “We’ve continued to get better as the season goes on. We were ready for this one.”
Dillon Rose ran five times for 45 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 67 yards and two scores. Defensively, he came up with a forced fumble and a conversion tackle.
“We just executed better on the most important plays,” Rose said.
Mike Garcia ran five times for 93 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 20 yards. On defense, he intercepted a pass.
“Mike has been getting more practice time (carrying the ball) and he’s doing better,” Zane said.
Carlos Lerma caught a 16-yard touchdown pass and scored on a 14-yard fumble return defensively. He also had 1.5 tackles for loss.
“Lerma is really athletic and it has been a pleasant surprise how much he’s stepped up, especially on defense,” the coach said.
Carlos Ramirez came through with a sack, a forced fumble, a conversion tackle and shared a tackle for loss.
“Carlos Ramirez has stepped up as a freshman and I’m real happy with him,” Rose said. “He just needs to keep progressing.”
Wayne Heartsill (29-yard fumble return touchdown, tackle for loss) and Tony Chavez (interception) also made significant defensive plays.
“Heartsill is getting more playing time as we go and doing something with it,” Trotter said. “He’s done a good job.”
After the Hornets lost a fumble on their opening possession, Garcia broke up a pass on fourth down at the Panther 35. Walnut Springs scored in five plays, as Rose broke a 23-yard run on fourth down and then Garcia scored with a 10-yard scamper (6-0, Garcia kick failed).
On the next Panther drive, Lerma and Ramirez split a tackle for loss and three plays later Ramirez hit the quarterback as he threw. The ball was up for grabs near the line of scrimmage and Trotter flew in to pick it off. He was able to return the ball 46 yards down the middle of the field for the touchdown (12-0, Garcia kick failed).
“After the interception, guys made some good blocks downfield to help me go score,” Zane said.
The elder Trotter liked what he saw.
“We needed our defense to come up big (early) because we were a little sluggish,” the coach said. “That got us rolling.”
On the first Panther offensive play to follow, Tony Chavez intercepted a pass and returned it 41 yards to the Mount Calm 2. Two plays later, Rose powered his way up the middle for a one-yard score (19-0, Trotter conversion pass to Adolfo Morales).
Mount Calm broke a few big plays to drive as far as the Hornet 2 before a big Rose hit caused a fumble the Panthers recovered for a loss. On the next play, Ramirez pressured the quarterback and he put the ball in the air with Garcia making a diving interception at the Hornet 3.
Garcia immediately went to the offensive side and on first down he busted loose for a 54-yard run.
“Mike has given us another key option in the run game so that I can rest other guys,” Trotter said.
Two plays later, Trotter the player escaped pressure, rolled out and found Rose, who was elusive after the catch to make good on a 23-yard touchdown (25-0, Christian Lares kick failed).
“I just saw an opportunity to get in the open field, took it and Zane got me the ball,” Rose said.
After Mount Calm was forced to punt, a deep Trotter pass was intercepted and Rose made a touchdown-saving tackle on the return. It paid off, as the Hornets made a stand at their own 19 with a Trotter sack and fourth-down tackle for loss by Trotter on consecutive plays.
The Hornets put together a nice drive that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass. Trotter bought time with his feet and lofted a pass to the back of the end zone, as Lerma made a leaping grab behind the defender (33-0, Morales kick).
Lerma made a tackle for loss on the first Panther offensive play to follow, and he also came up huge on the final play of the half. With time already expired, the Panthers fumbled on a pitch. Lerma scooped up the pigskin and shed a tackle late to hit paydirt from 14 yards out (41-0, Morales kick).
“We made more big defensive plays in this game than any other game this year,” the coach said.
Rose appreciated the effort.
“I was really excited about that play,” the senior said.
On the verge of losing the game early via the 45-point rule, the Panthers drove the field – converting a fourth-and-20 along the way – and scored with a one-yard run. Rose then prevented a successful conversion run (41-6).
Walnut Springs put together a similar drive, converting a fourth down when Trotter broke numerous tackles on a 30-yard run. Three plays later, Rose sped right and managed to cross the goal line from two yards out (47-6, Morales kick blocked).
Mount Calm didn’t throw in the towel, as it scored in three plays with the touchdown coming on a 27-yard deep pass. Once again, the Hornets prevented a conversion run thanks to Ramirez (47-12).
“We’re starting to step up and make the key plays,” Trotter said. “This group has begun to gel and so we’re playing a lot better as the year goes. Carlos is doing great.
“He’s a freshman who gets better with every game. He’s starting to play like an upperclassman.”
On the first Walnut Springs offensive play to follow, Trotter put up a pass deep down the middle and Rose had easily beaten the coverage to make good on a 44-yard touchdown grab (53-12, Morales kick failed).
“Dillon just burned them on that one,” Zane said.
The coach liked seeing his team be the aggressor.
“We tried a few big plays,” he said. “They didn’t always work, but we have to be a big-play offense so it was nice when they did.”
Trotter recovered a fumble on the Hornet 6 to end the quarter, moments after Garcia made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Walnut Springs 1.
Needing just one score to put the game on ice, the Hornets didn’t do it on offense, as a Garcia pass on fourth down fell incomplete.
After tackles for loss by Lerma and Heartsill, Ramirez forced a fumble on fourth down. Heartsill scooped up the loose ball at the Panther 29 and raced to the end zone to seal the deal (59-12) via the 45-point rule.
“To score on a fumble return at the half and at the end of the game was huge,” the coach said. “(The Panthers) just had a hard time holding onto the ball (Saturday) and we took advantage of it. Adolfo is playing with a broken arm, but he threw some good blocks out there.
“Christian Lares has stepped in at center to do a good job when we’ve needed it. Oscar Ruiz stepped up at nose guard in goal line plays when we needed him.”
Despite the big win, Hornet players have improvement on their minds.
“We still need to improve our blocking and sharpen up on our assignments,” Zane said.
“We can be a lot better and we still have a lot of work to do,” Rose added. “Come practice on Monday, we’ll be working on our mistakes.”
The Hornets return to action Friday at 7:30 in Covington for their district opener.
“We have to take care of Covington, because the next week will be a huge game against Blum; the district title will probably be on the line,” the coach said. “Injuries and illness have come up, but guys are playing through it.”