By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
SAVANNAH «» After a wild and woolly first 12 minutes of play produced 42 points split evenly between the Chillicothe Hornets and Savannah Savages, the Savages carried a 27-21 lead into halftime, at which point play was unable to be resumed, due to arrival of a significant amount of lightning and heavy rain.
As a result, play was suspended and is to be resumed Saturday (Oct. 12) at 3 p.m. at Savannah.
It was the first CHS regular-season game suspended until the next day since September 2010 when lightning led to a Hornets home game against Smithville being interrupted immediately after a Smithville touchdown had given the Warriors a 20-7 third-quarter lead. When action resumed the following day, the Hornets blocked the extra-point attempt and used that as a springboard for a rally which tied the game at 20-20 before Smithville scored a fourth-quarter TD following a CHS fumble in its own territory. The Hornets were stopped a yard short of a first down inside the Smithville 10 in the last minutes of that game, leaving them 27-20 losers.
Whether this suspension will lead to any change in complexion of the action will be determined at mid-afternoon Saturday when the weather forecast at the time of this posting (early Saturday a.m.) was for sunshine and a temperature around 70 degrees.
The game action Friday night produced points at a fast and furious pace as Savannah repeatedly exploited continued faulty kick coverage by Chillicothe and CHS trouble defending the veer-option attack, while the Hornets followed through on a non-traditional game plan by throwing more – not necessarily a lot – and in less-predictable down-and-distance scenarios.
The game got off to an explosive start when, a week after allowing a 52-yards punt return for a touchdown in the first 2:15 and later a costly kickoff return of about 60 yards, the Hornets' game-opening kickoff was run back 49 yards to the CHS 48 by Johnny Weeks, who eluded a pair of potential tacklers at his own 25.
On the first snap from scrimmage, Savannah sent Brett Ussary off left tackle on an option play and he slipped through a hole to the second level while going left before veering back right against the flow and romping into the end zone for the 48-yards score on 21 seconds after the game began. The SHS extra-point kick was no good, however.
Chillicothe responded by earning one first down before punting the ball 41 yards to the Savages' 12 with no return.
Having scored on its only previous offensive play, Savannah had a virtually-opposite result from its second as Ussary was hit by linebacker Cole Nichols just as he reached the line of scrimmage on an inside run. The hit knocked the ball free and fellow linebacker Hayden Major dropped on it at the 12.
Page 2 of 4 - Two CHS runs produced merely one yard, but, on third down, from a slot-right set, quarterback Tyler Clampitt's half-roll right drew the defense that way while DeEll Midgyett, from the right slot angled across to the left side. Although a defender initially picked him up, Clampitt held onto the ball another moment, allowing Midgyett, with the defender's momentum still taking him to the offensive right side, to continue on to open space farther left and gather in Clampitt's soft-touch throw for an 11-yards touchdown. When Zach Alperin's conversion kick split the uprights, Chillicothe was on top, 7-6, with 7:12 left in the first quarter.
Starting again from good field position (its 35) after a 20-yards kickoff return by Chase Simpson, Savannah immediately got a 21-yards run by quarterback Dalton Duane on an option keep to move into CHS territory.
However, on second-and-5, junior end Matt Shaffer chased down Duane as the quarterback rolled right, but found no receivers open, sacking him for a 6-yards loss. A third-down slant pass picked up 10, producing a fourth-and-1, but instead of going back to the option, Savannah tried a slow-developing bootleg to the left side with Duane and Hornets end Gillen Gates played it perfectly, dropping the quarterback for another 6-yards sack and a turnover on downs at the Chillicothe 42.
Rather than immediately try to begin a grinding drive, the Hornets went to the air on first down with Midgyett finding room down the middle. The catch-and-run produced a 29-yards pickup, putting the ball at the Savannah 29. At that point, three of CHS' first nine offensive plays had been passes, all complete for a combined 29 yards and one touchdown.
With the Savages' defense, which usually gangs up eight or nine men close to the line of scrimmage to try to thwart Chillicothe's run-heavy approach, now having to respect the air threat, the Hornets' line had a better chance to create creases for steady, if not huge, yards.
Two runs and an SHS encroachment penalty moved the yardsticks again, followed by two Gates inside runs for seven total yards and then a 5-yards pickup by Midgyett on third-and-3 from the 10.
Three Tyler Long runs in a row against the still-wary Savannah defense got the ball into the end zone, the payoff 2-yards run featuring fine second effort by Long as he was initially stood up at the line of scrimmage, but kept his legs driving as he slid off that contact to find a bit of space to his right. Alperin again booted the PAT and Chillicothe had gone from behind 6-0 after the first quarter's first offensive play to in front 14-6 on the second quarter's second snap.
Chillicothe's kickoff team again gave up major field position as a ground-ball kick bounced up nicely to a Savannah second-tier blocker on the run and he took it upfield 15 yards to the 50.
Page 3 of 4 - Two good Duane runs on the option and his 11-yards pass to Simpson advanced the ball to the CHS 13, from where Duane again kept on the option, this time turning up inside behind his dive back and finding a big seam to get to the end zone standing up only 67 seconds after Long's score. Savannah went for two on the conversion and succeeded with a Duane throw to a wide-open Simpson on a rollout pass. That tied it at 14-14 with 10:11 left before halftime.
Chillicothe's offense, perking with the greater threat of passing, picked up where it had left off the previous drive.
Starting from their own 25, the Hornets sprung Midgyett around right end for a 10-yards gain, then followed Long's 3-yards run inside with a quick slant pass to the left side to senior Walker Thomas, whose two previous receptions on the season had gone for touchdowns. This one didn't produce points, but did give Chillicothe another first down at its 47.
With Savannah's "D" rattled, the Hornets beautifully executed their wingback counter play with Thomas coming off the right edge to receive the second handoff from Midgyett, who had gotten the ball from Clampitt going right. Moving left behind the line, Thomas got to the edge and angled upfield toward the Savnanah sideline. As he reached about the SHS 35, he sharply cut back against the grain as the Savages' Ussary had done on his long scoring run and got same results. As the Chillicothe ballcarrier crossed the left hashmarks, only one defender was anywhere near him and that man couldn't get turned around and accelerate in time to deny Thomas paydirt standing up. The 53-yards gallop and Alperin's conversion put the underdog Hornets back on top, 21-14, at the 8:18 mark of the second stanza.
The CHS lead lasted even less time than it had after its previous score as Weeks took the subsequent kickoff at the 10, went straight up the field with his wedge far enough in front to see any creases. Spying one slightly to his right, the speedy running back hit it at full stride to pop into open space. With only kicker Wagner Chapman left to beat, Weeks dipped a shoulder as if intending to cut left, then veered farther right to get to the SHS sideline and go all the way for the score. This time, Aaron Baker kicked the Savages' point after and, only 13 seconds after Thomas' big play, Savannah had tied it at 21 with less than 16 minutes of game time having elapsed.
A bad decision by Clampitt on the first play of the Hornets' ensuing possession gave Savannah a chance to cash in on a very short field of its own.
Rolling out to his right, Clampitt opted, rather than throwing the ball away, to try to arch a pass toward a teammate along the right sideline even though a pass rusher was closing in on the CHS quarterback and the receiver was double-covered. A leaping safety Clayton McGinness intercepted the underthrown ball, barely getting his feet down in-bounds at the CHS 21.
Page 4 of 4 - Savannah needed eight plays, including a pivotal CHS offsides penalty before a fourth-and-7 snap, to get the ball into the end zone, but finally got there. On third-and-10 from the 11, Duane hit Jesse Dickens on a slant route from the right side for the score in the end zone. Even though Baker again misfired on the point-after kick, with 5:10 still to go in the opening half, Savannah was back in front, 27-21.
Chillicothe quickly went three and out, but was close enough – at fourth-and-3 – on the fourth-down play to be able to force Savannah's defense to line up in normal manner. That allowed Clampitt to punt the ball away from shotgun depth, rather than deep punt formation, and it carried and bounced 51 yards to the Savages' 5.
With 3:23 left in the half and all of its timeouts in hand, Savannah had time to score again, even with a sustained drive, and came very, very close to doing so.
A pair of double-digits-yardage completions advanced the ball to the 43 in only four plays. Ussary's 12-yards dive-play run on third-and-1 moved it to the CHS 36. Two more passes that picked up 12 and 14 yards took the ball to the Hornets' 11 with still about 35 seconds and two timeouts remaining.
However, a lob pass for Dickens in the end zone was well-defensed by Midgyett for an incompletion and Chillicothe's Gates and safety Clampitt read and jumped a left-end sweep attempt on second down and dropped Weeks for a gain of one. After a timeout, a pass over the middle for Ussary, who had a stride on a CHS linebacker at about the 7 was bobbled and dropped. Had the catch been made, the Hornets seemed to have a good chance to tackle him short of the first-down marker at the 1 or the goal line.
Following SHS' last timeout with 17 seconds remaining, the call was for another throw to Dickens on the right side. With Midgyett playing with inside leverage, Duane and Dickens understood the receiver would have to run an "out" route and the ball thrown toward the sideline. The ball sailed too wide though, carrying the receiver out of bounds in what would have been a moot point anyway, since Savannah had drawn a flag during the play anyway which would have negated any score, at least temporarily. Chillicothe obviously declined the penalty to get possession on downs with 11 seconds remaining in the half.
Through Friday's segment of the suspended game, Savannah had amassed 205 yards of total offense to Chillicothe's 164. Clampitt was four of six in the air with one TD and the one interception – only his second this year – for 58 yards. For Savannah, both Ussary (62) and Duane (53) were over the half-century mark in running yardage. Duane also was seven of 13 passing for 77 yards and a score.
The visiting Hornets might have been ahead except for the kick coverage breakdowns which resulted in a touchdown for the second week in succession and 172 kickoff return yards on only four runbacks. By contrast, Chillicothe had only 34 total yards on three kickoff returns.