It was the third quarter before the Suwannee Bulldogs put up any points against Jacksonville’s Episcopal Eagles Friday night at Langford Stadium. But, that didn’t mean the Bulldogs were asleep on offense during the first half. Patient might be a better word. For two quarters the Bulldogs ran relentlessly at the 2B Eagles, setting them up by wearing them down. The strategy paid off with three second-half scores, as the Dogs won their home opener 16-9 and evened their record at 1-1.

“We asserted ourselves physically in the second half,” said Suwannee head coach Bobby Bennett. “It was a gutsy game.”

The offensive stars were senior running back Brandon Allen and junior Jason Cherry. Allen racked up 125 yards on 22 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per attempt. He had plenty of help from the offensive line, which began to assert itself in the third quarter. But much of his yardage came on second effort, with Allen dragging would-be tacklers down field for an extra few yards again and again.

Cherry contributed with two crucial punt returns, one for 35 yards to set up a 21-yard Cullen Boggus field goal, giving the Dogs their first lead, the other for 58 yards and a touchdown to ice the game at 2:53 of the fourth. Cherry did it all for the Dogs, playing numerous positions, all of them well.

Other offensive standouts included senior Kenny Clayton, who made a fine catch for the Dogs’ first touchdown, and junior running back Jarrett Yulee, who recorded 31 yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Travis Westberry, making his second start in place of the injured Tajhuane Roundtree, completed six of 10 passes for 64 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Westberry managed to avoid at least three sacks by throwing the ball away while in the grasp of Episcopal defenders.

The Suwannee defense may have been the real hero of the game, however. The Dogs allowed no points on defense until the final 14 seconds of the game, when Episcopal made it close with a three-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Orlando Evans. Suwannee recovered the onside kick to snuff the threat.

The Dogs held Episcopal to 111 total yards, 48 on the ground and 63 in the air. Junior lineman Justin Starling had a fourth-quarter interception that led to the Bulldogs’ first touchdown. Starling led all tacklers with 11 stops. Junior lineman Wallace Smith had 10 and senior linebacker Lee Laxton, nine. Junior defensive back Stephen Cherry and senior lineman Edwaynte Jones each recorded seven.

The game began on a sour note for Suwannee. After the Dogs’ opening drive stalled, a high snap sailed over the head of punter Casey Brewer and into the end zone, where Brewer fell on the ball for a safety at 10:15 of the first quarter.

After the free kick from the 20, it was four-and-out for the Eagles, and the Dogs got another shot. But the offense sputtered again. The teams traded punts for the remainder of the half, which ended with the Eagles ahead 2-0.

And so it remained until seven minutes into the third. Jason Cherry’s 35-yard punt return gave the Dogs a first and 10 at the Episcopal 25. A second-down pass from Westberry to Brandon Cook took the ball to the Eagles’ 16. Brandon Walker ran to the 12 for a Bulldog first down, and Jarrett Yulee got it to the four before the drive stalled. Then came Boggus, a first-year kicker, to give Suwannee its first points of the season at 4:42 of the third. It was Boggus’ first points ever for the Bulldogs. The Dogs led 3-2 and never trailed again.

Suwannee’s next scoring drive began with Starling’s interception of a tipped pass at the Episcopal 47 midway through the fourth. Justin VanEtta made the deflection that led to the pick. The Eagles, with only a 24-man roster, were clearly beginning to tire. Allen picked up 14 with a run to the 33, then gained 13 more for a Bulldog first down at the 20. Three carries later, Allen had the Dogs at the Episcopal five. A loss to the 10 led to fourth-and-goal, and it appeared Suwannee would call on Boggus again. They went for it instead. What followed was a thing of beauty. With defenders closing in, Westberry fired to Clayton, who made a diving grab in the end zone for Suwannee’s first touchdown of the season. The point-after failed and the Bulldogs led 9-2 with 4:14 remaining.

A fired-up Marcus Walker set the tone for the next defensive series with a crushing tackle of Episcopal fullback Orlando Evans at the Eagles’ 22 on the kick-off. The Eagles lost 12 yards on their next three plays and punted on fourth-and-22 from their own 10.

Jason Cherry then iced it for the Dogs. Taking the punt at the Suwannee 42, he ran to the left sideline and sprinted in for the score. The kick made it 16-2 at 2:53 of the fourth.

The game was all but over, but somebody forgot to tell the Eagles, who put together a 12-play scoring drive to make it close in the final minutes. The key play was a 47-yard pass from quarterback Vernon Walker to Orlando Evans. Suwannee’s Collis Givens brought Evans down at the Suwannee 38 to save the touchdown. But, six plays later Episcopal’s Michael Moses pulled in a pass at the Suwannee two to set up a scoring run by Evans with 14 seconds remaining.

The onside kick skittered out of bounds as time expired.

“It wasn’t the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m tickled for you,” Coach Bennett told his players after the game.

In addition to Brandon Allen and Jason Cherry, Bennett singled out Gabe Galloway, Edwanyte Jones, Larry Allen and the entire linebacking corps for special recognition.

The First Federal Players of the Game, as selected by WQHL radio, were Cullen Boggus, Brandon Allen and Jason Cherry.

The Dogs face the Gainesville High Hurricanes Friday at Langford Stadium. Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m. See Friday’s Democrat for a preview of the game.

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