Fourth down conversions can be a killer.
Especially if they lead to touchdowns.
The Cumberland Regional High School football team learned that the hard way Friday night as the Colts allowed a pair of fourth-and-longs inside their 20-yard line to turn into Highland touchdowns as the visiting Tartans spoiled homecoming by jumping out to an early lead before holding on for a 25-7 win in a West Jersey Football League interdivision contest.
The loss was the fifth straight for the Colts (1-5), who will not be eligible for the state playoffs for the fifth-straight year.
“We don’t have that luxury to outrun a mistake,” Cumberland coach Tom Lake said. “In this case, it gave them two scores.”
The Colts were already at a disadvantage to start the game as quarterback Mickey Foytik, who has taken every snap this season, was inactive for the game after suffering an injury last week. Starting in his place was freshman Anthony Coombs. The move to the rookie quarterback forced Lake to take a conservative approach to his offensive plan.
“We had to use a couple of young bucks,” Lake said of needing to use Coombs and sophomore Cody Byrum as his signal callers. “We had to go conservative and that makes you predictable.”
While Cumberland was going with untested quarterbacks, Highland’s Derin Sweeney looked like a seasoned vet, leading the Tartans (2-4) down the field on their second drive of the game. Aided by the running of Fred Morrison, Sweeney used a variety of short passes to lead Highland down the field. When it appeared Cumberland had Highland stopped at the Colts’ 11, Sweeney found Bryce Washington across the flat and he went around the left side for the score.
Matt Nagel’s extra point made it 7-0.
“It was a missed assignment,” Lake said. “We had guys trying to do too much and not stay with their assignment and it cost us.”
Sweeney, who at one point completed 10 straight passes, again drove the Tartans down the field early in the second quarter. Given good field position after forcing Cumberland to punt from their own end zone, Sweeney capped another Highland scoring drive as he converted another fourth down, this time finding Chais Hill in the end zone from 12 yards out. The extra point failed with Highland leading 13-0.
Cumberland did not quit, however, as Joe Boose returned the ensuing kickoff to the Highland 18-yard line. Four plays later, De’Han Milledge converted a fourth-down of his own, busting through the line for a 9-yard touchdown. Ryan Davis converted the point after to put Cumberland behind 13-7.
The Colts recovererd the ensuing onside kick, but could not capitalize as Highland took a 13-7 lead into the locker room.
Highland’s DeVante Parker accounted for all the scoring in the second half as he scored on a 6-yard run early in the fourth quarter and put the game away with about three minutes remaining as he scooped up a fumble by Byrum and raced 15 yards for the score.
“You have to continue to work to be consistent to apply your techniques,” Lake said. “When we do that we make big plays, on both sides of the ball. But when we don’t do that, we don’t have the luxury of making up for it. When we make mistakes like that, it comes back and bites us in the backside.”
Highland 25, Cumberland 7
H: Washington 11 pass from Sweeney (Nagel kick)
H: Hill 12 pass from Sweeney (run failed)
C: De’Han Milledge 9 run (Davis kick)
H: Parker 6 run (run failed)
H: Parker 15 fumble return (kick failed)
Rushing: Highland — Morrison 21-115, Parker 6-28, Hill 6-19; Cumberland- De’Han Milledge 12-45, Ferguson, 3-24, De’Zahn Milledge 7-20, Boose 2-0, Coombs 4-(-17) .
Passing: H-Sweeney 13-19-0, 145 yards; C-Bynam 0-1-0, 0 yards.
Receiving: H-Parker 5-63, Morrison 2-23, Lawus 1-22, Hill 2-17, Washington 1-11, Jackson 2-9.