Midway through Saturday’s tilt between visiting University Academy and host Central, a flurry of action separated the teams down the stretch.
Central was seemingly in control, nursing a 12-6 lead to begin the second half. After University Academy running back Duwan Whitmire opened the first series of third quarter with a 28-yard run to the Blue Eagles’ 32-yard line, the Gryphons lost a fumble on the next play.
Central quarterback Javion Shelby answered with a 26-yard run as the Blue Eagles crept into Gryphons territory with a first-and-10 from the 40.
One play later a freshman corner would supply the jolt University Academy needed and a pair of seniors lead the rest of the way in a 33-20 win for the Gryphons.
One play after Shelby’s jaunt, freshman cornerback Steven Strong stepped in front of a Shelby pass near the Blue Eagles’ sideline and returned it 75 yards for a pick-6 score.
A successful extra point gave University Academy, 4-1, its first lead of the game at 13-12 barely two minutes into the third.
“That was a huge play,” Gryphons head coach Ryan Heffley said of Strong’s interception return.
Strong showed upperclass moxie on the play, Heffley said.
“He’s a good player,” Heffley said. “He’s one of the better freshman I’ve ever had.”
Central fumbled the ensuing kickoff and University Academy didn’t take long to capitalize.
The Gryphons finished off a short 39-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run by Whitmire, one of four scores on the day for the senior ball carrier.
A successful extra point gave University Academy a 20-12 lead less than four minutes into the second half.
Central would tie it at 20-all to close out the third quarter, but without their starting quarterback, the Blue Eagles were outscored 13-0 in the fourth quarter.
Whitmire did the damage with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“Our running game was really strong in the fourth quarter,” Heffley said. “We just kind of leaned on it and it brought us home.”
Perhaps no other play changed the game more than a hit levied on Shelby by Gryphons senior middle linebacker Malik Dickerson-McKinney.
Dickerson-McKinney drilled Shelby on a quarterback run, sending the Blue Eagles’ signal caller, leader and captain to the sidelines for the rest of the game.
It wasn’t the hit heard ‘round the world - or maybe it was - but it sparked a lively crowd watching Central’s first game on its new artificial turf field.
The text-book tackle where shoulder pads meet ball carrier sent a jolt through the Gryphons and their fateful. The Blue Eagles and their crowd could only look on in horror as Shelby was helped off the field and tended to on the sideline.
He spent the rest of the afternoon with his shoulder in a sling, cheering on his teammates.
“I don’t think they recovered as well as they would have liked,” Heffley said.