Savannah grinds its way past Grain Valley

Stephen Bubalo/PrepsKC

By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: August 27, 2012 - 5:56 AM

Grain Valley head coach Jimmy Tucker didn’t know what to expect out of his mostly inexperienced football team Friday night in its season-opener against Savannah, while Savages quarterback Zane Wilt admitted afterward his team probably came in a little overconfident.
By the game’s end both coach and player saw their respective teams fight through some adversity and show plenty of encouraging signs for the upcoming season, but only Wilt’s team walked away with a hard-fought 13-6 win over the Eagles.
“We’re fighters,” Wilt said. “We weren’t expecting a fight tonight but that’s what we got. Once we realized it, we responded well.”
The Savages were favored coming in after a 12-2 season in 2011, which got them one late-game drive against Webb City from tasting the Class 4 state championship game. Meanwhile, the Eagles were implementing a new quarterback after would-be starter Dominic Macoubrie tore his ACL in the first game at the team’s jamboree last Friday.
Enter junior Ben Andes to go along with several other first-time starters and it’s no wonder Tucker didn’t know what to expect Friday night.
“We showed a lot of resolve,” said Tucker, as his team also lost two more starters during the game. “We didn’t quit. The kids fought hard.”
Added senior running back Cameron Bolten:  “At the beginning of the season we all had a lot of doubts. We had a bunch of young guys and we lost a lot of talent. After the MU team camp we stuck together.”
The game started like one might expect a season-opener, as both defenses controlled the game in the first half with neither coach opening the playbook up too much. By halftime the game remained scoreless.
Savannah finally got things going in its favor midway through the third quarter when Wilt barely evaded Grain Valley’s Robert Crawford on a pass attempt and found Jesse Dickens for a 45-yard gain.
Five plays later, including a fourth-down conversion, Wilt ran in a score from 10 yards out to make it 6-0.
“That big pass play was the one that hurt us,” Tucker said.
“We finally opened one up,” Wilt said of the pass play to Dickens. “That play was supposed to go left – it was a broken play – and I thought he (Crawford) was going to take me down but I slipped off and they messed up in coverage.”
With Savannah driving on its next possession, the Eagles got new life when they recovered a Wilt fumble.
Using that momentum, Grain Valley put together its best drive of the night and drove 77 yards down the field in 11 plays – six runs and five passes – with Brenden Baldwin capping the drive on a 6-yard touchdown run. A missed extra point made it 6-6.
But the Eagle defense was starting to show a few cracks and on the ensuing drive the Savages used an 11-play drive of their own – including nine runs – to take a 13-6 lead when Brett Ussary scored the game-winner from 20 yards out.
“There at the end we started to wear them down,” Wilt said. “We could tell they were tired.”
Grain Valley would get one more shot but its next drive fizzled out when they failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 attempt.
Tucker’s season-opener a year ago was a 49-7 loss to Platte County, but after week one in 2012 there were a few more reasons for the Eagles to hold their head high.
“By far this was the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Tucker said. “Our defensive line and linebackers played real well. And we did have to revamp our offense. … But I feel like we can add more things to (Andes’) weapons to help him.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot we need to fix but not many people gave us a shot tonight. I hope we turned some heads.”
Meanwhile, Savannah got a test early in the season, something that hasn’t happened in recent years.
“In my previous three years we’ve started against some small school and it was never close,” Wilt said. “I’m glad we got to start with a game like this. We were able to learn a little bit and that will help us get ready for Harrisonville next week.”