For the second straight Friday night, the Ardrey Kell football team jumped out to a big first half lead only to have their opponent storm back before the Knights could come back and win it late.
Last week the scenario played out with Marvin Ridge, a game the Knights would eventually win 36-33 as quarterback Jared Joseph was a part of five touchdowns, including a momentum-changing interception as a defensive back and the winning score on a quarterback keeper.
Joseph would have a huge role in the Sept. 13 game against Independence, too, with four more touchdowns.
In the first half, he connected with Michael Hetzel and Cedric Gray on scores, the Knights successfully covered an onside kick and linebacker Kaci Seegars, who doubles as a running back, bowled over a would-be-tackler at the goal line to give Ardrey Kell a 26-9 lead with 4:15 to play.
Everything was going so well, but that’s where the game changed.
“At the end of the first half we just sort of stalled out,” said Ardrey Kell coach Grey Jachym. “We had some penalties that hurt us and some missed opportunities.”
The Patriots scored right before half and on their first two possessions of the second half to take a 30-26 lead.
“They came out firing after halftime, which we kind of expected,” Jachym said. “They have some good players and are a good team, but we just hung in there, didn’t panic and found a way to win again.”
The big play came at the end of the third quarter with Independence clinging to its four-point lead. On a fourth-and-long play, Joseph threw a pass that sailed over his receiver’s head, high enough that the Patriots contested it was an uncatchable ball.
Instead, the referees called a pass interference and Joseph capitalized immediately, hitting Gray for his second touchdown of the evening.
From there, the Knights would go on to score 17 unanswered points as they won 43-30.
Part of their success is the run game, which barely gained 1,000 yards as a team last year and averaged around 3.4 yards per carry, a very low average. This year Seegars, Hetzel and sophomore Henry Bowen, who scored in each of the past two games, are alternating carries and picking up big chunks of yardage.
That has helped the whole offense, especially considering Joseph can run, too.
“The run game has opened our offense up and it’s let our guys out there like Ced be able to do his thing,” Hetzel said. “It’s helping spread everything out for Jared, and he’s been making good decisions.”
Hetzel caught two touchdowns in the win over Independence, and will line up at receiver and in the backfield. Gray and guys like Joshua Johnson have been able to get even more space on the outside, and they’re consistently making teams pay.
Even double-teaming Gray, the North Carolina linebacker commit, hasn’t been an option with all of the weapons the Knights have.
“We need more footballs so we can spread it around more,” Jachym joked. “We try to move it around some and try to get our guys in position to be successful. We have three good backs and a quarterback who can run. When we spread those receivers out, it opens up the box.”
As the Knights enter their bye week with a 3-1 record, Jachym is pleased with where his team is. He said this week will be about getting back to health and focusing on the little things that have led to the hot start.
And they’re not going to lose the feeling they developed last season when they backdoored their way into winning the conference after a 1-6 start to the season, but rallied to win four straight to win the conference.
That momentum has continued through the offseason and into the first four games and has the Knights playing good football.
“Our confidence is through the roof,” Seegars said. “We’re playing better in general and we have leaders now. We haven’t had this kind of leadership ever. Last year we won conference and that just set the new standard and is what we expect now. We’re setting the bar right now and we’re going to continue to raise it and keep getting better.”