Football: Falcons’ defense shuts down Piedmont Hills in second half, leading to second straight victory

September 11, 2016 — by Siva Sambasivam
Photo by Kevin Couch

Running back Robert Scott celebrates in the endzone after scoring a late touchdown in the Falcons' victory over Piedmont Hills on Sept. 9.

Going into the second half against the Piedmont Hills Pirates on Sept. 9, the Falcon football team looked lost. Behind 13-9, after a first half plagued with dropped passes and pressure on their quarterback, they seemed about to drop their second consecutive preseason home game to start the season.

Throughout the first half, quarterback William Liddle had difficulties connecting with his receiving core as the pressure of the Pirates’ defensive line kept getting to him.

Immediately as the second half started, though, Liddle threw a laser beam pass  to junior wide receiver Harrison Fong for a momentum-shifting 50-yard touchdown pass. Following the extra point, the Falcons had a 16-13 lead, a lead they never gave up after their defense stiffened.

With a breakout game from running back Robert Scott, and a stellar effort from defensive end Aaron Vogel, the Falcons shut the Pirates out in the second half,  winning the game 29-13.

Scott led the Falcons by going for 107 yards with 22 carries to go along with his three touchdowns. Liddle threw for 251 yards on 26-37 passing, and one touchdown. Eight of Liddle's completions were to Fong, who finished the game with 137 yards and a touchdown.

With great quarterbacks helming both offenses — Liddle for the Falcons, and Alex Garcia for the Pirates — observers anticipated seeing the ball put in the air constantly. Entering the match-up, both teams had enjoyed great success running the no-huddle spread offense, both this season and in previous years, as evidenced by the previous time these two teams faced off.

Last September, Garcia and Liddle combined to complete 54 of 75 passes, and this game was expected to go similarly as both quarterbacks had high completion percentages coming into the game.

The Falcons drew first blood in the opening quarter, with Liddle running a quarterback keeper for 20 yards to set up a 40-yard field goal for kicker Quinn Dozier, who nailed the kick perfectly through the posts. In turn, the Pirates wasted no time responding with a 12-yard touchdown pass of their own. After a failed extra point kick, the Pirates had a 6-3 lead entering the second quarter.

Due to the Pirates’ strong secondary, Liddle struggled to connect with his primary receiving target, wide receiver Kian Ghelichkhani, during the second quarter. But the Falcons quickly modified their game plan, starting to run the ball with senior Nolan Chao and Scott. Scott saw few touches in the first two games, but his impressive job being coachable, especially his improvement in lowering his shoulder, keeping his head down and blowing through traffic, made him a go-to offensive weapon in this game.

Compounded with Chao’s need to get rest during no-huddle offensive possessions, Coach Tim Lugo made sure to start calling his number. Scott enjoyed the vote of confidence, scoring the Falcons' first touchdown on a 7-yard run.

After the touchdown and extra point by Dozier, the Falcons were able to halt the passing game of the Pirates. But because of the Pirates’ strong offensive line, Garcia was able to sneak a 16-yard quarterback keeper past the Falcons’ front line, giving the Pirates a 13-9 lead going into the locker room.

In the locker room, the Falcons defense felt that if they matched up with man defense, and pressure with a well-organized blitz, they could shut down Garcia from getting open throwing lanes, thus bringing the Pirates offense to its knees. Because of his trust in the defense, Lugo decided to take a big risk, and go with their suggestion.

Acknowledging Liddle’s hardships in throwing the ball, Lugo decided to continue to play the heavy run offense that got Scott the touchdown, in the second half, saying, “Balance on offense is a myth in my opinion.  We want to throw the ball first but if it takes us 50 run plays to win, we’ll do whatever it takes to get the W.”

With these changes in place, the Falcons came out at the top of their game immediately as the second half began. Although Lugo wanted to shift the offensive focus to running the ball, Fong noticed the Pirates’ overloaded, single-minded, mentality on shutting all-leaguer Ghelichkhani down.

Fong was able to quickly zip past his defender, and make an amazing 50-yard, momentum swinging, touchdown catch After the electrifying play, which gave the Falcons a 3-point lead, the Falcons’ defensive line came up big, with Vogel sacking Garcia four times.

Because of Vogel’s hard work ethic and off-season weight loss, Lugo decided to switch him from defensive tackle to defensive end at the beginning of the season in an effort to improve the team’s defense. The decision, which was mainly made to give Vogel more space to work against outside lineman, has started to yield big results, not only statistically for Vogel, but also for the defense as an entire unit.

Vogel partially credited his performance to the defensive secondary, namely cornerbacks Chao and Dalean Denenberg, who were able hold of the Pirates receivers long enough to give Vogel the necessary time to get to Garcia.

The Falcons’ defense was able to hold Garcia to completing only four passes in the second half, while Scott continued to shine with 3-yard and 1-yard running touchdowns. The Pirates made a late-game goal line push, but the Falcons’ defense came up with one final stop, giving them the win and a 2-1 preseason record.

With a newly found Fong-Liddle connection that greatly strengthens the viability of the Falcons’ receiving core, and a constantly improving defense, the Falcons will look to turn their momentum into a three-game winning streak in their final preseason match next Friday against Leigh High School, which runs the same wide open offense as Piedmont Hills.

Even though Leigh has talented, 3-year starting quarterback in Jared King, a dangerous passer and runner, Lugo has no doubt in his team’s ability to come out strong, and put another game in the win column, especially if they can replicate Friday night’s second-half success.

 

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