HORSEHEADS – The hurry-up offense gets its name from the quick pace in which plays are run. The Horseheads football team gave its hurry-up attack a dual meaning Saturday, piling up touchdowns with lightning speed in its season opener against non-league foe Syracuse Fowler.
The Blue Raiders scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions and rolled to a 54-28 victory that moved them one victory away from matching last season’s win total.
“We’re moving,” Horseheads head coach Damian Saks said of the offense. “We put up some points; we put them up fast. I think we had a few drives under two minutes, which was huge for us.
“We still have some things that are just not clicking quite right as far as our blocks. We’re missing some things and those things will tighten up, but that’s expected in the first game.”
High-scoring games have also come to be expected at Horseheads, which installed its hurry-up attack last season and ended up having the team’s best offensive season in years, averaging nearly 30 points. The defense struggled, though, and Horseheads finished 2-7.
Horseheads’ offense found its groove early Saturday and stayed there until the starters left at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders produced 452 yards, with 229 coming on the ground and 223 through the air.
“I think every coach in the section wants to start out 1-0 and we’re no exception,” Saks said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve started out 1-0 at Horseheads. For us, it’s a big deal. It’s a big win for us. It’s a big morale booster going into next week’s game.”
Senior quarterback Ben Clark completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards and hit Andrew Clark for two third-quarter touchdowns that covered 1 and 14 yards. Ben Clark, who is not related to Andrew, also had 77 yards rushing on just six attempts.
Ben Clark said the offense has put in a lot of hard work to improve on last year’s impressive effort.
“Throughout the offseason we were out every day throwing patterns. It is a precision offense,” he said. “You’ve got to have perfect timing. Everyone has to be on the same page.”
He said the success of the running game opened up the passing game Saturday. Clark also received plenty of protection from the offensive line as he scanned the field for open receivers. Eight players had at least one catch for Horseheads. Andrew Clark had six receptions for 77 yards, and Bruce Jefferson caught three balls for 75 yards.
Nine players ran the ball for the Blue Raiders. Garrette Briggs picked up 50 yards and two touchdowns on just three attempts. Casey Miller had 29 yards and two touchdowns on six carries, and Noah Bosket added 29 yards and a touchdown on three rushes. Alec Webster also ran for a touchdown.
“I thought we played well as a team,” said Briggs, who added an interception on defense. “We gave 100 percent. We went out there and we expected to win and we won. … This win right here is going to motivate us throughout the season so we can win more games.”
Horseheads started last season with a 22-15 home loss to Oneonta, surrendering a last-second touchdown after holding a one-point lead. Saturday’s victory obviously provides a much better feeling as the Raiders prepare for Friday night’s Week 2 game at Auburn, which like Fowler is from Section 3.
“Last year we started off with a loss and it turned us down the whole season,” Ben Clark said. “Hopefully, this year will be different.”
Saks said several changes were made on offense and defense after last week’s multi-team scrimmage at Waverly. The offense was quicker to adapt than the defense, with Fowler producing touchdown drives of 54, 68 and 78 yards in the first half. The game was tied, 20-20, before a 2-yard touchdown run from Webster and a 4-yard touchdown run by Bosket sent the Raiders into halftime up 34-20.
A quarterback sack by Clai Wood led to a Horseheads fumble recovery that set up Bosket’s touchdown with 32 seconds left in the half and set the stage for a stronger Horseheads defensive effort in the second half. Fowler didn’t find the end zone again until a 48-yard touchdown toss from Mikaj Weaver to Chris Melchior with just under nine minutes remaining. By then, the Raiders’ lead was 47-20.
“For us it’s really the first time this defense played together,” Saks said. “That was a huge adjustment for them to kind of get together, play together, know where everybody is. For us, it was like the first time on a field against somebody else, so it was a big learning curve.
“These kids adjusted well. Obviously, I don’t think we tackled very well. We’ve got to do a lot better job on that, especially with some other teams we’ll be seeing.”
Said Briggs: “We were a little nervous coming out. We just needed to play and we fought through it.”
Weaver completed 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards for Fowler, which was 1-8 last season. Zaafir King, a 6-foot, 275-pound running back, had 48 yards on 11 carries but was neutralized in the second half. Melchior finished with six catches for 80 yards.
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare