Gallery: Eastside defeats North Marion 14-6
North Marion’s quarterback A.J. Cussins (14) is sacked by Eastside’s Jayden Manns (7) during a football game at North Marion High School in Citra, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
The North Marion Colts undefeated train came to halt ten days ago when Suwannee came to Stan Toole Memorial Stadium and upset the Colts in a low-scoring game.
On Monday night, the Colts hosted the Eastside Rams in a district game, with the opportunity to clinch their district championship.
The weather was perfect for football as it was 72 degrees at kickoff but the action on the field was white hot early on as the Colts opening drive stalled out after eight plays and were forced to punt. The Rams offense had some early momentum with a fourth-down conversion by junior running back Chris Bishop.
That momentum did not last much longer as Colts defensive lineman Andrew Zock and Arkese Heath combined for a sack on third and four to force a punt. Colts quarterback AJ Cussins would find Chris Foster for a 14-yard completion and a first down on the opening play of the second drive.
On the next play, a false start flag put the Colts offense behind the chains and a pair of sacks from junior outside linebacker Jayden Manns led to another punt.
“Just executing in practice, doing what coach tells me to do and making big plays.,” he said.
Despite the struggles from the offense, Manns (3 sacks) and his defense were not going to let their team down.
“Coach just told us to keep our head up. Even though we would go out and get a stop, just had to go out there and keep doing it. Defense wins games.,” Manns added.
Great field position after the punt eventually led to a 37-yard field goal attempt from Rams kicker Caleb Dressel, the kick was short, and the scoreless battle continued.
On the ensuing possession, Cussins connected with Dalton Merritt for a 12-yard completion on third and nine to move the chains. Two plays later, Colts running back JJ Johnson ran to the left and multiple Eastside defenders met him after a few yards and the ball was ripped free for a fumble.
Senior outside linebacker Maurice Johnson would scoop up the loose ball and return it 23 yards for the first points of the game, Dressel’s extra point gave the Rams a 7-0 lead with just over seven minutes left in the first half.
It was the first touchdown of Johnson’s high school career, and it gave the momentum back to his team.
“It felt good, I did not even see the ball at first, it just dropped into my hands.,” he said.
The Colts offense were able to get a first down on the opening play of the next drive via a 10-yard reception by Foster but the pattern of the drive dying out after a good start continued and the Colts had to punt for the third time in the half.
Fortunately, the defense continued to make plays and Colts safety Jabrel Samuel laid out a monstrous hit on the ball carrier to force a fumble and give the ball back to his offense. They would convert a fourth down on a seven-yard run by Johnson but back-to-back holding penalties killed the drive. Eastside took a knee and a 7-0 lead into halftime.
The opening kickoff for the second half brought more fireworks as Rams sophomore wide receiver Daijon Johnson flew through the middle of the field for an 81-yard touchdown, the extra point extended their lead to 14-0.
Another first-down completion to Foster got the ball rolling for the Colts offense and was followed by a 35-yard pass to Kenyon Stocker to put the Colts in the red zone for the first time.
On fourth and goal from the two-yard line, Cussins found Caleb Rollerson in a tight window for a touchdown connection, a bad snap on the extra point allowed the Rams to maintain a 14-6 lead.
The Colts defense used the energy and crowd to get stingy and force a punt after a third-down sack from Antwuan Hampton. It seemed as if the tide was turning the Colts way after a 36-yard reception by Foster put the offense at the Rams 25-yard line.
The pattern of a big gain on the opening play of a drive followed by mistakes continued as a false start penalty led to more pass attempts for Cussins, who appeared to be playing with a nagging injury to his lower body.
North Marion head coach Greg Carr was aware of the issues on offense for the game and knows its about focusing on the details.
“Penalties, we get a big play and then we get a hold, and we get this or that. It’s about doing the little things, locking in and giving it all you got all the time that you’re out there and we’ll get it correct. Me and my coaching staff are a prideful, confident group and we will get it corrected.,” he said.
A sack by sophomore defensive lineman Jessie Barnes (three for the game) put North Marion out of field goal range and forced a fifth punt of the night. On the final play of the third quarter, which was a third and 17, Rams senior quarterback Holden Johnson connected with junior wide receiver Antonio Hubbert for a 34-yard catch, the longest play of the night for the Eastside offense.
The North Marion defense kept bringing pressure and a sack on third down from Sariah Aviando led to a punt. In a reversal of what had transpired up to this point in the game, the Colts offense started out by allowing Barnes to get to Cussins for a sack.
Cussins and the skill players started making clutch plays with a nine-yard completion to Johnson on third and 15, followed by a 11-yard pass to Foster on fourth and six. First-down runs by Cussins and Johnson set up the Colts offense with first and goal from the three-yard line.
Unfortunately, Johnson was stuffed on negative yardage on consecutive carries, setting up third/fourth and long. The Rams defense pinned their ears back and got sacks from Manns and senior outside linebacker Micah Hudson for a turnover on downs.
Zock, Hampton and the defense gave their offense one last opportunity after forcing a three-and-out. Foster came up with another huge play on third down with a 12-yard reception, he finished the night with seven receptions for 107 yards.
After the Foster reception got the ball to their own 36-yard line, the Rams defense stepped up by forcing two incompletions, a third sack from Barnes and a short pass that was nowhere near the first down line to end the game and give themselves a 14-6 win.
It is the first district game and win of the season for the Rams and Hoskins was proud of his team’s effort on the road in a tough environment.
“They were just ready to play, the defense came out and fought, we had guys flying around. I came and talked to the guys and said we have a chance to be district champions, but we have to take care of business tonight.,” he said.
Eastside moves to 3-1 on the season and will host Ridgeview this Friday night at 7 p.m.
As for the Colts, a 4-0 start seems further away each week as they have fallen to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in district play. A big road matchup versus archrival Vanguard looms on Friday night at 7 p.m. Carr is ready for his team to get back to work and clean things up heading into the stretch run.
“Details, details, details, it’s not that we’re giving up big plays. It’s the little things that you can’t take for granted and you watch any football game on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and it’s the details of things that costs people ball games.,” he said.
He added, “It’s playing the game the right way. If you don’t, it’s going to come back and bite you.”
For Eastside head coach Harold Hoskins, he was happy with the performance of all three phases of the game and made a point to congratulate the efforts of the special teams in the post-game huddle.
“Football has three phases of the game, and you have to win special teams. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to move with the offense, but we still won the game and that’s all that matters.,” he said.