ALBION—The second Rob Valenti coaching era began with a 40-34 road loss to Albion Sept. 1.
In a game that saw the lead change eight times with the Griffins having at least one lead in each quarter, the result was disappointing after assessing how dominate Springville was to Albion on paper. In a nutshell, Albion needed only to go about 50 yards for their scores, whereas Springville on the average needed to go about 75. That actual 21-yard differential in drive starts was attributed to special teams play or lack thereof.
With the game tied at 34-34 late in the fourth quarter, Springville’s special teams allowed a touchdown return on the team’s lone punt for the deciding points.
“The special teams aspect of the game completely let us down. Our inability to cover the kick led us to squibbing and onside kicking,” Valenti said.
“Field position loomed as one of the largest factors of the game and really stressed a young defense. Albion had the ball nine times and their average drive-start was their 48,” Valenti said. “On the flipside, the kick return wasn’t much better as our own average drive-start was at our 27.
“The frustrating part is we started installing special teams on the first day of practice, whereas some teams will wait until game week to install it. We had a 25-minute session of special teams for three weeks, so for it to look that poor was definitely disappointing.”
Springville had two, eight-point leads in the game with the first coming off Jeremy Baker’s first of four rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. The Purple Eagles responded with a score of their own, but the Griffs held the lead after the first at 8-6.
Albion got on the board first in the second quarter for their first lead 14-8, but quarterback Matt Evans found Shaun Wright for a 35-yard passing score to retake the lead at 16-14. The Purple Eagles went into halftime, however with a 20-16 lead.
Baker’s second touchdown gave the Griffs the lead back at 22-20 with the first score of the third, but again Albion answered and went ahead, 26-22. Baker converted a fourth-down run with a 73-yard scamper to end the third with the Griffs ahead, 28-26.
Baker recorded his fourth touchdown with a 5-yard run to start the fourth and give Springville an eight-point lead at 34-26. When Albion finally tied the game at 34, the Griffs defense prevented the Purple eagles from going ahead by stopping its two-point conversion attempt.
The teams appeared destined for overtime until the late Springville special teams produced the winning points.
The Griffs had almost 50 percent more offensive plays (65-34) and accumulated 40 percent more offensive yards than Albion, 361-215.
The optimistic Valenti praised a number of players, especially two on the offensive side of the ball who hadn’t played complete football seasons since their freshman years.
“In his first full game since his freshman year, Jeremy Baker stood out with four touchdowns,” Valenti said. “Our other touchdown also came from a player who hadn’t played since his sophomore year – Shaun Wright.
“Defensively, Jake Perkins had two sacks and Sean Barry was our leading tackler. Bryson Black and Payton Szudzik both had interceptions,” the coach said.
Ironically, Black’s pick – the first play from scrimmage – resulted in Springville’s best starting field position of the day, but the team was unable to punch it in to the dismay of Valenti.
Beyond Barry’s team-leading nine tackles, Josh Steff and Scott Bove were in on seven tackles apiece. Baker finished with 148 yards on the ground and one reception for five yards. Evans went 4-for-12 for 67 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while also rushing for 16 yards.
The Griffs will next play sectional champion Dunkirk in the team’s home opener Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. Last year, Springville could only muster six points against the Marauders – their lowest offensive output in three seasons. To call the Griffs an underdog might be an understatement as the Marauders were just one game away from potentially wearing state-champion rings last season.