ELKTON-Facing an 18-point deficit to visiting Rising Sun midway through the second quarter, Elkton remained confident that it would not only get back into the game but also earn the victory.
That confidence was warranted as the Golden Elks stormed past the Tigers to earn a 40-38 victory behind quarterback Eli Latshaw’s five touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score to Isaiah Huffstutler with four minutes remaining, in non-divisional UCBAC football action Friday night.
“Honestly, I knew we had it the whole time,” Latshaw, who also threw for 346 yards, said. “They gave us their best effort, and we just responded. We all just stayed together, and we all were ready.”
Rising Sun jumped out to a 17-0 lead just 5:19 into the game thanks to touchdown runs by Mason Testerman and Gannon Russsell and a 24 yard field goal by Russell.
Despite the large deficit early in the game, Elkton head coach Matt Feeney remained calm on the sideline because he had confidence that the close-knit unit would find a way to bounce back.
“It didn’t say anything to them. What I’ve said about this group from day one is the chemistry is unlike any I’ve seen from an Elkton football team in a long time. They genuinely care about each other and play for each other,” Feeney said.
“You’ve seen me on the sidelines in the past. I’m screaming, losing my mind and throwing things,” Feeney added. “I stayed calm. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to go undefeated. I just know that these guys won’t ever quit. They won’t because … for each other. That’s just a testament to the character of those men.”
The Golden Elks got on the board on the ensuing possession when Latshaw connected on quick strike to Huffstutler for 55-yard score to make it 17-6, but the Tigers responded with a three-yard touchdown by Russell early in the second quarter to make it 24-6.
Elkton got itself back in the game with a short touchdown run from Tyreke Kane and a long 71-yard touchdown pass to D. J. Piner, making it 24-18 with 4:19 left in the second quarter.
Russell scored his third touchdown of the first half on the next possession to give Rising Sun a lead. That 13-point lead was cut to five as Latshaw connected with Jaden Nichols for a 28-yard strike to make it 31-26 with less than a minute left in the first half.
Golden Elk head coach Matt Feeney had nothing but praise for the Tigers’ offense, particularly Russell, who finished the game with 247 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns.
“They have dudes over there. They make blocks. They’re running our guys over. Gannon Russell is a Guy. He’s a Guy, man. We felt that dude tonight,” Feeney said “You can come in with a gameplan, but the boys start playing ball. They were making plays.”
Rising Sun held onto its 31-26 lead until the final play of the third quarter when Latshaw connected with Huffstutler for a 13-yard touchdown pass, and the Golden Elks made it a three-point game at 34-31 when they converted the ensuing two-point conversion.
The Tigers regained the lead when they capped off a 8-play, 49-yard drive with a Russell five-yard touchdown run with 5:58 remaining, and the successful extra-point gave Rising Sun a 38-34 lead.
“They retook the lead, but we wanted it back,” Huffstutler said of Elkton’s mindset after the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown. “That’s the mentality. We’re not going to take the foot off the game, and we’re going to keep going and going. That’s exactly what we did.”
The Golden Elks did not waste time getting into scoring position as they got to the endzone in four plays, scoring on a 21-yard touchdown connection between Latshaw and Huffstutler with four minutes remaining to make it 40-38.
Huffstutler made an adjustment to his route on the eventual winning score as he noticed the Rising Sun safety had strong coverage on the play.
“The funny thing is that we called a route that I didn’t do correctly, but I saw the safety had really good coverage on me,” Huffstutler, who caught six passes for 117 yards and three touchdowns, said. “I ran my own thing just to help my team out. There was great coverage on me, but I had to make sure to be myself and win for my team.”
“They blitz every single play. They brought six, and their linebacker went to the bubble, and their safety almost made a great play,” Latshaw added. “Huffy (Huffstutler) made a great play, caught it and got the touchdown.”
The Tigers got to the Elkton 34 on the ensuing possession, but the Golden Elk defense did not break, forcing an interception on a desperation pass on fourth down and 22 to seal the victory.
“You know, yes. A walk usually gets egos inflated. Listen, we knew we weren’t getting a walk. We never get a walk with Rising Sun,” Feeney said of the victory. “It’s going to be four quarters. Like I said, it’s going to be who has the ball last. We got lucky that they had the ball last, and we made a play.”
The biggest takeaway Tiger head coach Clem Vaughan said his team can learn from their tough defeat is to learn how to put games away.
“How to finish. When you have somebody on the ropes, you really have to finish. We’re there. We’re that close. We just need to finish,” Vaughan said.