A hard fought game went Garces’ way Thursday night in the opening round of the Division I Central Section football playoffs.
In a battle between two rivals, it was the Rams who topped Frontier 30-22 at Garces High School. Frontier had the ball twice in the red zone in the closing minutes but could not put the tying touchdown on the board, falling just short in its comeback bid.
“In the beginning, we thought we had it,” said Garces quarterback Joseph Campbell. “They came back at the end. It was a little scary there. But we pulled through, like we have the whole season.”
It’s not as if the game was a mistake-free affair. Garces was penalized for well over 100 yards on the evening, allowing Frontier to stick around despite building a 16-0 lead out of the gate.
As for the Titans, they had their miscues throughout, struggling to run the ball on two fourth-and-short opportunities early and fizzling out in scoring position late. On the first potential scoring drive, with 3:16 remaining and Frontier with the ball just outside the Garces 20, J.J. Flores ripped off a strong third-down run that netted quality yardage. But, fighting for more, Flores fumbled the ball into the Garces end zone. The Rams recovered.
Even with that, Frontier got the ball back with 2:47 remaining. The Titans had good field position at the Rams 27, and moved the ball inside the 10.
But penalties pushed them back out to the 20. Another good pickup on the ground got the Titans back to the 5-yard line, but they didn’t get out of bounds on the play. A subsequent fourth down throw, on the game’s final play, fell incomplete.
“If you want to beat a good team in the playoffs, you’ve got to play smart,” said Frontier head coach Chris Bandy. “You can’t make mistakes, or they’ll beat you….In the end, they made one less mistake, I guess you could say.”
Garces went ahead early, getting a 62-yard touchdown pass from Campbell to wide receiver Zach Hebbard. The play looked harmless enough — a wide receiver screen to the near sideline — but Frontier failed to tackle Hebbard in the open field and the senior was gone.
Peter Delis also showed good accuracy, kicking home three field goals (36, 37 and 37 yarders) as the Rams built a 16-0 lead.
Frontier couldn’t sustain much offense in the first half, but did have a quick scoring strike when quarterback Dustin Montanio hit Flores down the middle for a 65-yard touchdown to close out the first quarter.
After the two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, Garces went ahead 30-15 to start the fourth on an Isaiah Martin 12-yard touchdown run. Martin was his typical hard-charging self, rushing for 160 yards on 28 carries.
Campbell was effective in the pass game as well, and the Rams showed ability on the outside with skilled wide receiver play.
Frontier would get back into things, however, on the legs of their own tough runner Tye Johnson (30 carries, 169 yards, two touchdowns). His 5-yard scoring run with under nine minutes remaining cut the deficit to 30-22, but the Titans wouldn’t draw any closer.