James Wood defense can't cool off Kettle Run

NOKESVILLE — You wouldn’t know it by the final score, but the James Wood defense got off to an excellent start in Friday’s high school football clash at Kettle Run.
The Colonels forced a pair of turnovers and held on downs in their first three defensive series against the Class 4 state runner-up from last season.
But once the Cougars’ offense got rolling in the second quarter — especially quarterback Jake Mulhern and receiver Sam Rodgers — there was no stopping them.
Kettle Run put up 29 points in the second quarter, including three touchdown passes from Mulhern to Rodgers, and rolled to a 56-20 triumph.
Rodgers caught 10 passes for 185 yards and set a school record with four touchdown catches. Mulhern threw for 255 yards and Colton Quaker ran for 110 and two TDs as the Cougars (3-0) racked up 550 yards of total offense.
Aside from one big play, the Colonels (2-2) struggled on offense in the first half and couldn’t keep the defense off the field in the first two quarters. Seven of their 13 rushing plays in the half went for negative yardage.
“The defense played really well the first part of the game,” James Wood coach Todd Wilson said. “We forced two turnovers. Then offensively, we just couldn’t get anything going in the run game. The defense played well at times and the offense was slow getting started.”
Justin Gwinner was in the right place twice in against the Kettle Run offense in the first quarter. Mulhern hung up a long pass for Rodgers and Gwinner went up high to pick it off on the first drive of the game. On the Cougars’ third series, Gwinner scooped up a fumble on a botched handoff.
The Colonels were unable to take advantage as Kettle Run bottled up the run game and got pressure on Owen Neal, resulting in two sacks.
“Our ability to stop the run tonight was really incredible,” said Kettle Run coach Charlie Porterfield. “I thought we did a great job getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. … As a whole when you look at [our defense], they’re really dominant right now. I think they are playing well. Some of those new guys have really stepped up.”
That gave the Kettle Run offense time to get on track and the points came in bunches.
A 42-yard strike from Mulhern to Rodgers to the Colonels’ 2 set up Quaker’s one-yard TD run that made it 7-0 with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
The floodgates opened in the second period. Mulhern’s seven-yard out to Rodgers capped a 57-yard touchdown drive. Later in the period, Rodgers broke wide open down the middle for a 43-yard TD to make it 21-0 with 4:07 left.
“We made some mistakes, but we’re good at coming back and playing together like a family,” Rodgers said of rebounding from the early turnovers. “That’s what we do.”
The Colonels finally got something going offensively on their next series. On third down, Neal fired over the middle to Kaden McCullough, who made a spectacular one-handed grab and took off 62 yards to the Kettle Run 17. After a roughing the passer was tacked onto the play (in which McCullough was injured) to put the ball at the 8, Kobe Mason bolted through the left side and Aiden Bell’s PAT made it 21-7 with 2:54 left before the half.
That was enough time for the Cougars to score twice more. Mulhern went 3-for-3 (two of them to Rodgers) in a four-play, 66-yard march that was capped by a 22-yard run from Quaker. After a penalty on the Colonels, Quaker ran in the conversion to make it 29-7.
An interception and a 20-yard return by Jack Pechin gave the Cougars the ball at the Colonels’ 32 with a minute left in the half. After a holding penalty nullified one TD, Mulhern and Rodgers hooked up again for a five-yard TD pass with 6.8 seconds left in the half that made it 36-7 at the break.
“Me and Jake are good friends,” Rodgers said. “We have a really good connection. That’s all it is right there.”
Wilson said the last 14 minutes of the first half were frustrating after the Colonels’ defense stumbled after a great start.
“We can’t beat ourselves with misalignments,” he said. “The first couple of scores were just that. We were out of position. They still might drive the ball down the field, but they’re not the big explosive plays. That’s the frustrating part. We put together a good scouting report and good plan. We just have to get lined up right.”
Rodgers and Mulhern hooked up again to start the third quarter for the record-breaking TD. For the third time, it was an out pattern in the right corner of the end zone.
“It feels great with all the hard work and all glory to God,” Rodgers said of breaking the record. “It feels great to do that.”
With the way things are going, the two could set some big records. Rodgers, taking over as the prime target with the graduation of Jordan Tapscott, has seven TD catches and Mulhern has 11 TD tosses through three games.
“When you have a new quarterback in, you’re always like, ‘What is going to happen? What’s he going to be like? Is he going to be able to handle the pressure and handle the situations?,’” Porterfield said. “And losing a kid like Jordan, Sammy clearly had a big year last year, but is he going to be able to step up and fill that big role? I think both of those guys have proven in the last three weeks that they are going to have no problem filling those roles and producing.”
Both teams substituted liberally in the fourth quarter and both teams notched a pair of TDs.
Neal and Gwinner hooked up for a beautiful 90-yard bomb down the left sideline that made the score 43-13. Gwinner finished the contest with two interceptions, the fumble recovery and long TD catch.
“He’s a great kid,” Wilson said of Gwinner. “He works his tail off.”
In his only series, Colonels back-up QB Aidric Yurish tossed a 49-yard strike to Trenton Manili that made it 49-20.
Kettle Run got rushing TDs from J.T. Taylor (7 yards) and Lordy Fallon (71 yards on the final play of the game).
Porterfield was pleased with how his team rebounded from the tough start.
“The frustrating part is that was my message today and earlier in the week that we needed to find a way to start quick,” he said. “We weren’t able to do that tonight which has a little disappointing, but I told the guys that if we’re still having to fix stuff and the [final] score is what it is the sky is the limit for us right now. If we can get some things cleaned up, we can find a way to look even better than we did tonight. Once we settled down we looked like what I expect us to look like every week.”
Wilson said the good defensive start shows that the Colonels can do battle with an outstanding program like Kettle Run.
“Our kids need to realize we can compete with some of these programs,” he said. “We’ve got to start believing a little bit.”
The Colonels next host Handley on Friday.
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