It’s the stuff of which dreams are made. Unfortunately for Monticello, those few seconds turned out to be the Billies’ worst nightmare.
Ashdown senior Anthony Nelson gathered in the kickoff to open the football season Friday night and, 82 yards later, had taken all the wind out of Monticello’s sails in a game that turned ugly pretty quickly. Giving up 41 unanswered points before they could finally find the end zone, the Billies dropped the non-conference game 48-7 on the road.
“You never what to start the game down,” a shell-shocked Monticello head coach Marty Davis said. “Ashdown’s kid made a great play. We knew their speed in the open field would give us trouble and it was a factor all night.
“But even with the speed difference, our kids made plays and gave themselves opportunities throughout the night. Our players played extremely hard. We did not get off to the start we wanted, but our kids adjusted got their feet under them and finished better than we started.”
Not that it matters to Davis, his coaching staff or any of the Billies that made the trip, but Monticello had some company in the first weekend of high school football in 2017. Surprisingly, all eight teams in the Billies’ Class 4A, District 8 lost their openers—including defending 4A state champion Warren.
Little Rock Christian humbled the Lumberjacks 43-28 on Tuesday, Aug. 29. A day earlier, Pea Ridge had blasted Hamburg 50-30 in one of the 2017 Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield Kickoff Classic, presented by hootens.com, games at the University of Central Arkansas.
The other five teams dropped openers on Friday night, the same day Monticello was embarrassed by Ashdown. Magnolia, the Billies’ next opponent, got by Crossett 28-19; Little Rock Parkview squeezed past Star City 17-13; Riverview had little trouble with DeWitt, winning 35-6; Watson Chapel shut out Dollarway 34-0; and White Hall drubbed Dumas 56-12.
At Ashdown, the host Panthers added a one-year scoring run by Detravion Green later in the first quarter to assume control of the game early. A 14-year pass from Jaden Hill to Ben Birtcher and another scoring run by Green, this one from seven yards out—plus three of four John Michael Molock extra points—put Monticello in a 28-0 halftime hole.
“They were better than they looked on film,” Davis admitted of the Panthers, “and we did not match up with their skilled people. I thought our quarterback (senior Ryan Lambert) did a good job. He threw the ball well and ran the ball well.
“Our offensive line gave protection and our running backs ran the ball well, also. Our receivers caught the ball—and we had no turnovers on offense and two (takeaways) on defense.
“The defense, as a whole, tackled better than last week (in an Arkansas Activities Association benefit scrimmage at Camden Fairview), even though that’s an area we still need to improve in—and will. Our biggest concern is that we get healthy. We still have some key people out that will be difference makers for us when we get them back.
“We still have a numbers issue with our linemen, because a lot of those guys have double duty. Our special teams are also a concern, because a lot of two-way guys have to help made our special teams. If there is a silver lining, though, it’s that this past game allowed us to identify the areas we need to get better. It also gave our new guys a change to get game-playing time.”
Junior Kevious Simpson scored Monticello’s lone touchdown late in the third quarter on a four-yard run but, by that time, it make the score just 41-7 (with senior Tyon Rhodes’ point after touchdown). And Nelson finished the game like he started it–with a bang.
This time it wasn’t a return but a 48-yard run that gave the Panther senior two scores on the night. Previously, Hill had thrown his second and third touchdown passes to give Ashdown its 41 points.
Statistically, the Panthers outgained the Billies 393-283 in total offense but, despite the long runs allowed by the Monticello defense, the rushing numbers were virtually the same. Senior Aaron Spencer led the Billie rushing attack with 46 yards on 10 carries, Simpson gained 39 yards on 11 carries and Lambert added 34 rushing yards to his 152 yards through the air.
Junior Gabriel Martens hauled in six of Lambert’s 14 completions for a game-high 108 yards receiving. Martens was also the top Billie tackler, recording eight stops from his cornerback position (seven solo). Marten’s junior classmate, Colton Oltmann, finished the game with seven tackles (five solo).
Even with the thumping endured from Ashdown, Davis said Monticello learned valuable lessons—which will come in handy when the Billies travel to Magnolia Friday night for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“Magnolia has a very good football team and their staff does a great job with their kids,” Davis said of the 5A club—the second consecutive team nicknamed Panthers Monticello will face to begin the fall. “They run the double-wing option,
which makes it very tough on defenses. We will have to play assignment football on defense and tackle better.
Defensively, they are big and quick up front. We must maintain our blocks and have no turnovers. We will better on special teams. Magnolia looked extremely impressive against Crossett last week.
“It’s always disappointing to lose your opener but everything that did not go well can be fixed, and will for the upcoming game.”
After two weeks on the road, Monticello’s home opener comes up next Friday against 6-3A powerhouse Fordyce. The first of three straight home games (the others are 8-4A opponents Star City and Hamburg) will also kick off at 7 p.m. at Hyatt Field.