By Bobby Mathews, sports editor
FAIRFIELD — It came down to size. Tied at 14 in the third quarter, the Fairfield Tigers rode their larger offensive line to stay on the field, using multiple fourth-down conversions to pull away here Thursday night, 32-14 over the Center Point Eagles.
“I think their size certainly had something to do with it,” Center Point head coach George Bates said after the game. “Early in the season like this, we play a lot of guys both ways, and they have the luxury of not having to do that as much. But they played a good game, and my hat’s off to them.”
Early on, it looked like the Eagles would fly. Junior running back Troy Bruce catapulted Center Point to an early lead when he patiently waited for his blocks to develop, then darted around the left side and through the Tiger defense for a 27-yard touchdown. The PAT was no good, but the Eagles led 6-0 with 9:03 left in the first quarter.
Demario Hicks dropped Fairfield’s Hezekiah Hudson-Davis for a one-yard loss to get things going for the Eagles’ defense. Jaheem Nathan then brought down the Tiger’s quarterback, Eric Handley, for a two-yard loss. On the next play, Handley threw incomplete, and Tigers were forced to punt.
A fielding error on the punt led to a Fairfield recovery at the Eagles’ 35-yard line. But after a pair of incompletions by Handley and a seven-yard sack by Hicks, the Tigers lined up to punt again. This time a bad snap led to a nine-yard rush for Fairfield, but the Tigers still turned the ball over on downs.
Eagles quarterback Jabari Collier couldn’t find much room on the next possession, running for three yards on first down and then pulling the ball down after dropping back for a pass, and eventually the Eagles had to punt.
An illegal block in the back penalty cost Fairfield half the distance to the goal, but that didn’t faze the Tigers. After another incomplete pass by Handley, the struggling quarterback threw a 28-yard completion, and then Hudson-Davis went around the left side of the line for a 19-yard sweep. He added another 10-yard run, and suddenly Fairfield had three straight first downs.
Center Point called a time out to try to break the Tigers’ momentum, but it was for naught as Hudson-Davis tore off another 10-yard run for a first down, and then Handley found a wide-open Ja’Kobi Albert for a 28-yard touchdown pass. The PAT made it 7-6, and the Tigers had the lead with 1:10 left in the first quarter.
They would never relinquish it.
On the ensuing Eagles possession, Albert stepped in front of a Collier pass for an interception. One play after Handley ran a quarterback sweep, he then hit Victor Gaines for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The PAT meant the Tigers were up 14-6.
Things began to get chippy on the ensuing kickoff, as both teams were flagged for offsetting personal fouls for pushing and shoving after the whistle. After trading possessions, Center Point too the field for their longest drive of the night.
Starting at their own 29, Center point marched down the field behind the running of Bruce — as well as two pass interference calls — to put together a 14-play drive that ate up clock and resulted in a fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line. Collier followed his line into the end zone on that fourth-down play to score. Instead of a point-after, Bates elected to go for two.
Collier rolled to his right, then threw a low dart to sophomore Malik Brown, who got his hands between the ball and the ground, then cradled the pigskin to his chest for the conversion. The Eagles and the Tigers were tied, 14 apiece.
But the third quarter is when the size difference began to show up. Hudson-Davis began to gash the tired Eagles defense, opening the second half with runs of 15 and 24 yards. Two plays later, Handley would hit Baines for another touchdown. The PAT went straight up into the air, and the score was 20-14, Fairfield.
On their ensuing possession, the Eagles went four and out. After a punt that resulted in no return, Fairfield took over and put together an eight-play drive that included a fake punt for 13 yards to keep the drive alive. Fairfield’s big line began opening holes against Center point, and Handley hit Albert for another touchdown with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter. With the PAT, it was 27-14.
The Eagles desperately needed a spark, and Ke’marius Horne provided it. The sophomore all-purpose athlete took the ensuing kickoff past everyone, going from his own 17-yard line to the Tiger’s seven, where he fell untouched — with nothing but end zone in front of him. On his race toward the end zone, Bruce had caught a cramp and dropped to the turf.
“They really started to lean on us in the second half,” Bates said. “There are some things we definitely have to go back to the drawing board with, but we can’t cry over this too long. We have the team that won the region next week.”
The Eagles fumbled the first snap from the Tigers’ nine-yard line, and Fairfield recovered the ball. That killed any comeback momentum that Center Point had at that point. Even after recovering a Tiger fumble, the Eagles couldn’t do anything with it.
On their final scoring drive, the Tigers used 11 plays to move from their 11-yard line all the way into the Eagles’ end zone. They again used a fake punt, with Albert running for 19 yards on the play to give Fairfield life, and then again later went for it on fourth and two. Hudson-Davis charged up the middle for four yards, and the seemingly endless drive by the Tigers continued.
Three plays later, Hudson-Davis would scored again for the final margin, 32-14. Center Point plays at Alexandria next week.