Let's be honest. This one wasn't perfect. It wasn't always pretty, and there were plenty of teachable moments on both sidelines.
Carver scored a 40-3 victory over Spencer that was never in doubt, but it came along with a slew of penalties and missed opportunities. These are the types of games that drive coaches crazy in the moment, but really work to their benefit in practice.
Carver won by 37 points, but if I'm a coach, I'm highlighting a handful of the negative aspects that could hurt it going forward. Particularly a lot of yellow hankies, some of the 5-yard variety, but a handful 15-yarders as well. I'm also making sure my quarterback spends a lot of time with his receivers this week ironing out timing on passing routes. Jawon Pass hit Dreilon Freeman for a 35-yard touchdown pass on the team's first offensive play, but had three or four opportunities for some big yardage throughout the game that he wasn't able to capitalize on.
Let's put this in perspective: Pass is a sophomore. He was starting his first game ever. Just because of the enormous expectations and potential that follow him, we can't expect him to make every throw right away. At times, he looked every bit the part on Friday night. At others, he showed his age and experience. In time, he'll get more comfortable in the pocket and be able to hang in and let the receivers run their routes to completion.
Those are the negatives from Carver's performance, but there were obviously a lot of positives as well. The defense held a talented Spencer offense to just three points. No easy task. Spencer's Tarvaraska Davis was efficient with his passing and Damarkus Robins showed why he is one of the best athletes in the area. Still, the Tigers were able to pin their ears back and put bodies on Davis early and often, essentially eliminating any potential for a running game.
On the other sideline, Spencer showed why it has improved in a lot of ways except the obvious--the scoreboard. The defense really limited Carver for a long time during the game. It allowed touchdowns on each of the Tigers' first three possessions, but tightened up for most of the rest of the game. It was clearly not the same unit that allowed 40 points per contest last year. (I know it allowed 40 points in this one, too, but trust me--it made a lot of good plays and a lot of stops.)
The offense will come around, too. There's a lot of talent there.
Here's a quick look back at the four pre-game keys and how each team followed through.
The running game
Carver rushed for over 200 yards and four touchdowns. Spencer struggled to stay in the black on the ground. The Greenwave tried to make some inroads with screen passes and the like, which worked at times, but Carver really had the ground game bottled up from the start. That put a lot of pressure on Davis to perform. He did well, but he couldn't do it all.
Rattling the quarterback
I don't know if Spencer rattled Pass at all. His numbers were very solid and he made some really nice throws. There was a moment after the first couple of drives, though, where Pass seemed to lose his groove. He missed an open receiver on a long pass that would have resulted in an easy touchdown, and after that his timing seemed to be a little off. It's just growing pains. I think we could really see why his potential is through the roof.
Limiting penalties and mental mistakes
I feel like a bit of an oracle on that one. As stated before, Carver won with ease, but there are plenty of teachable moments in this regard. Coach Joe Kegler will really stress to the players the need to maintain focus on every down. Getting the ball in Spencer territory and promptly getting penalties isn't a recipe for success and could come back to bite them in some other games.
Number of troops
This didn't become a factor in this game simply because the game was never close enough to warrant it. Carver does have the advantage here, but I don't think it played much of a part in the outcome.
Alright, that'll do it for tonight. If you've got any questions about the game or other games around the area, hit me up on Twitter @leprepsports.
7 p.m.--It's hot, it's muggy, but we've got some real live football at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium nonetheless.
A brief shower about an hour ago has done nothing to dampen the mood surrounding the 51st Heritage Bowl, pitting Spencer against Carver in the annual rivalry game.
The teams took the field about 10 minutes ago for warmups, and the Tigers are loud, chanting their familiar pre-game "fired up" chant.
Both teams better be fired up, because this rivalry game, no matter the outcome, inspires a lot of emotion on both sides of the field. This year, there are a couple of other storylines to keep an eye on, as well.
As mentioned last week during the scrimmage between Carver and Central, Tigers coach Joe Kegler is making his head coaching debut. Last week was a test run. This one is for real. Likewise, quarterback Jawon Pass will make his first official start under center for Carver. He played well in the scrimmage last week, completing 8 of 11 pass for 72 yards and a touchdown.
The Spencer defense struggled last year, but has improved and will look to limit what the sophomore Pass can do in the passing game.
Here's a look at four keys to this game, particularly for Spencer, which has lost 14 in a row in the series and is the underdog once again.
Establish the running game
Simple idea, a little more difficult to execute. Spencer running back Damarkus Robins is a player, having rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season. He'll need some help from his offensive line tonight, though, as the Carver defensive front will pose quite a challenge for Spencer. That vaunted unit for the Tigers has a ton of talent and, despite a sub-par showing against Central last week, should be a force to be reckoned with. If Robins can find a couple holes and move the chains early, Spencer can keep the Carver offense off the field. The last thing they want is to fall behind by an insurmountable amount by halftime.
Rattle the new quarterback
Jawon Pass has a ton of talent. Just looking at him on the football field, you know college recruiters are salivating. But don't let his potential make you forget he is just a sophomore running the offense full time for the first time. Expectations like those can put a lot of pressure on a young quarterback, and the best things Spencer can do is take advantage of that. They need to be in his face. If Pass gets into a groove, it could be lights out.
For Carver, limit penalties and mental mistakes
That was really the biggest issue for the Tigers last week. They put themselves in tough positions on both sides of the ball, positions they couldn't get themselves out of. It will be key to keep Pass and the offense in manageable yardage and don't put any extra pressure on him to dig the team out. Defensively, they can't have the same mental lapses that cost them last week. Spencer may have only won three games last year, but it has a very good offense led by some experienced players.
Number of troops
That's a key phrase taken from Central coach Woodrow Lowe last night when his Red Devils found themselves in a dogfight against Russell County. The Warriors hung with Central all game, but just didn't have enough players to keep up in the fourth quarter. Carver has a much deeper roster than Spencer, and that will have a big impact on how things go late in this one, as well. If Spencer wants to have a chance, it has to take advantage of opportunities early.
Alright, that's it for now. Check back in at the half for a few thoughts and stats from the first two quarters. And, as always, follow me on Twitter @leprepsports for live updates throughout the game, or you can go here for updates from all the games in the area.