It was quite the night for senior Malcolm Downing.
The Rams defensive end and tight end had two third-down sacks and a punt block that made all the difference in Parkside’s 35-28 win against the Seahawks on Thursday night at Wicomico County Stadium.
Downing’s first sack slowed Stephen Decatur’s drive as the Seahawks tried to close the Rams’ 21-14 lead at the half.
On the second drive for Decatur in the third quarter, Downing took down Seahawk senior quarterback Justin Meekins on third and five to force another punt. The Rams (4-5) had just failed to convert on a first-and-goal situation due to a penalty and snap over quarterback Devin Redding’s head.
But Downing made up for the Rams’ error. He jumped over the lineman blocking him to get both hands on the punt that Jason Fox picked up and ran in for the touchdown that put the rams up 27-14 with 51.4 seconds left in the third.
“On that punt block, we talked all week how we could shoot in and be able to get there even though he plays 15 yards back,” Downing said. “So I went back there and jumped up and blocked it.”
Downing doesn’t even remember falling. He fell from so high he just remembers being on the ground with his back hurting.
He didn’t even know Fox had scored.
“Malcolm is as I said at the start of the year, ‘he is the most underrated kid probably in the Bayside,’ ” Parkside head coach Brendan Riley said. “He is an outstanding young man and he’s an outstanding football player – he’s smart and he makes big plays when they need to happen. … He just went out there and did was he does.”
But Decatur (1-8) would answer.
Dryden Brous split the gap for 40 yards for a touchdown the play after the punt, which kept Decatur alive.
Besides Meekins, the Rams had kept everyone else quiet on Decatur.
Looking to capitalize on the lead, the Rams faked a punt but Juwan Williams’ came up short.
It was not Williams first mistake of the night. And not his last, but he was setting up for a finale.
However, the fake didn’t hurt the Rams. Decatur took over, but the Seahawks could only pin the Rams down at the 1-yard line.
Williams other big mistake. He let the ball roll with no one around him, which consequently rolled out at the 1.
It changed everything.
On third down on the 2, the Seahawks Ed Zonnak made a J.J. Watt-like play. He blocked the ball just a few feet away from Redding’s pass and caught it and fell into the end zone to give Decatur the 28-27 lead with 9:02 left in the game.
“I was surprised because they didn’t try and run the ball. … Eddie came up with a big play right there,” Decatur head coach Bill Knox said.
But the dagger was still waiting for Decatur to lose another heartbreaker.
The next drive caused a headache for all.
With the Rams building a possible game-clenching drive, Parkside got all goofy with its play on second and five from the 32-yard line.
A read option to the running back turned into a tackle for loss that was pitched back to Redding, who was tackled for a bigger loss back at the 50.
At the end of a long discussion, it was second and five from the 32-yard line all over again.
“The explanation given to me was an inadvertent whistle then after an inadvertent whistle, the team that has the ball gets their choice of whether they want to take the play over or whether they can take the play as the inadvertent whistle stands,” Knox said.
It seems clear that the whistle came after it looked like the Rams’ running back had lost forward momentum, but in that time, he had pitched the ball keeping the play alive and causing the whistle.
“It was a crazy play because the kid who had the ball pitched it back to another kid, but if he blew it because he said he was stopped (forward momentum) than he was stopped,” Knox said. “It’s not an inadvertent whistle. … That was a dagger in the heart for us.”
Riley said it was a bad call on a crazy play, which didn’t make it any easier.
The Rams were lucky for once this season, while the Seahawks string of tough luck continued.
There was sort of a make-up call after Garnder rushed 23 yards down to the 10.
A late flag for holding brought the Rams back to an eventual third and seven at the 32. Williams took a jet sweep left, was spun around six yard deep in the backfield, somehow broke the tackle and got 10 yards for the first down.
Gardner’s next run counted for 18 yards and then Redding kept a read option, escaped to Seahawks who had him dead to rights and scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:05 left. Redding sweeped into the end zone for the two-point conversion to give the Rams 35.
“That sealed the deal for us,” Riley said.
But Meekins would mount a comeback.
After turning it over on downs, the Seahawks used all three timeouts and forced the Rams to turn the ball over, leaving 1:47 on the clock with the ball on the Decatur 31.
Meekins would go 5 for 11 on the drive for 52 yards and drive the Seahawks down to the 15-yard line with 33.7 seconds remaining.
“The play we called was for him to hit the kid before he got outside the hash and he got flushed out of the pocket because we didn’t pass protect really well,” Knox said. “So he couldn’t throw when we wanted him to throw it and by the time he threw it there was another kid who he couldn’t see.”
That kid was Williams, who had committed to the run and found the ball being thrown at him on the 1-yard line where he picked it off to seal the win for Parkside.
“It felt real good because at the beginning of the game I didn’t have a good start,” Williams said. “By the time of the end of the game, I’m going to end up doing something good for our team to win. That’s what happened, I got the interception.”
It was another game Decatur have won and lost and another game for Parkside that they could have lost and won, which was a first for them.
“It seems like we’re in every game, and we just don’t know how to finish it,” Knox said. “We get close and we play in spurts, and we play well in spurts, and then it seems that we have a mental lapse for little periods of a time and other teams take advantage of it. Parkside is a good team, but I mean we fought right there with them and had a chance at the end.”
Riley and the Rams have strung together three-straight wins and with a win next Thursday against Washington, Parkside could end up the team with the best record in the Bayside at 5-5.
“It feels good,” he said. “I’m excited for our coaches and our boys. They just played their butts off out here. … First time we were able to get a little bit of luck.”
NOTES: It was an action-packed first half. Here’s what went down.
Decatur started the game with the ball at its own 33-yard line.
It was clear from the start the Rams’ defensive line came to play as they bottled up Meekins, Brous and Sam Coates on the first drive.
The Rams’ ground game went to work like they have in the past few games.
Diggs pounded the ball three times for 12 yards and a first down, and Redding’s 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 kept the drive alive.
Two plays later, Gardner pounded home a 10-yard touchdown for the 7-0 lead with 5:22 left in the first.
Decatur had an immediate answer after a roughing the kicker call kept its drive alive from the 44-yard line.
After a heavy dose of Brous and Meekins’ runs, the senior gunslinger found R.J. Hayman for one of his two first-half touchdowns with 10:42 left in the half.
After the Seahawks soaked up 6:50 on the previous drive, the Rams took just three plays to strike a 65-yard drive.
After Redding lost six on first down, Dajour Diggs sprung a shotgun handoff 64 yards down to the 7-yard line. As the Rams hurried to the line, Redding took a QB sweep for the remainder and scored 58 seconds later.
After a Decatur punt, the Rams really got in the driver’s seat. A five play, 66-yard drive took only 2:01 thanks to a big 36-yard run by Redding, capped off by an 8-yard run by Gardner for his second touchdown of the half.
But Decatur crept back to keep this one close. Meekins found Hayman on a 27-yard strike to bring the score to 21-14 at the half. The drive was helped along by a crazy deflection.
Meekins threw a rocket out to Jeremiah Purnell, but it flew wildly off his hands to Hayman, who pulled it in for a first down.
Parkside was driving, but a fumble – by Williams nonetheless — stalled its momentum. Decatur couldn’t capitalize before the half, and the Rams took a knee to head to halftime.
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