GRANT CITY, Mo. — The South Holt/Nodaway-Holt Spartans and Worth County Tigers came into Friday night’s matchup with high expectations, but four quarters into the 2020 season, it appears the two teams are headed in different directions. The Spartans led by 22 at the end of the first quarter and carried that momentum to a 78-22 win.
“I feel fantastic,” Spartans coach Josh Petersen said. “It’s been four years, almost four years to the day since we came over here and beat them—and it wasn’t 78-22. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Coach (Chris) Healy, both as a player and a coach and it doesn’t matter if Worth County is up, down, left, right, sideways—they’re still Worth County. We still open up with them week one and to do what we did tonight here, not to take away anything from what Worth County did, but my guys were awesome.”
There is no bad blood amongst the two teams and afterwards both teams were highly complimentary of each other, but the Spartans came into Friday night’s game wanting to erase the idea that they couldn’t play with the top teams. Senior quarterback Drew Quinlin said the underdog mentality is still one they’ll keep moving forward.
“We’ve always been the underdog, and in our minds, we’re going to stay the underdogs all year,” Quinlin said. “In every game we walk into, we’re going to be the team that no one wants to play, that no one wanted our two schools. We had to co-op because no one wanted us.”
Worth County entered Friday night’s game without its starting quarterback after injuring his foot last week in practice. Aydan Gladstone will miss at least the first six weeks of the season, and now the Tiger offense will rely heavily on players like senior running back Andrew Alarcon.
Alarcon saw his first action since tearing his ACL last season against Pattonsburg and Worth County head coach Chris Healy gave the ball to him early and often. Alarcon carried the ball on all six plays of the game’s opening drive and finished with 19 carries for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers drive ended with a failure to convert on fourth-and-six, giving Quinlin and Petersen their first opportunity to show off the Spartans’ new offense.
SHNH’s new option offense marched down the field with six rushing plays for 53 yards. New fullback Brody Scroggins carried the ball three times for 15 yards and junior running back Alex Harris capped off the drive with a 31-yard touchdown run.
“Last year, Brody Scroggins played guard and that was not his position, we all knew that,” Quinlin said. “He’s too fast to play guard and this year when we got someone new to play guard, it opened up a lot of opportunities for our running backs.”
Worth County began its next drive with a delay of game, but erased the lost yardage with an eight-yard run from Alarcon and a five-yard run from Dylan McIntyre. Alarcon’s lone mistake of the night came third down as the Spartans’ defense forced the senior running back to fumble.
“You know we did some good things on offense, but we would run one good play and then a penalty; or one good play, and we’d put the ball on the ground,” Tigers coach Chris Healy said.
After recovering the fumble, Scroggins again got the Spartan offense off to a good start with a six-yard rush. Quinlin took it from there, scoring two plays from 24 yards out.
It didn’t take long for Quinlin to find his way back to the end zone. On the Tigers’ fourth play, quarterback Jackson Runde’s tipped pass was intercepted by Quinlin and returned for a touchdown — giving the Spartans a 22-0 lead with 2:31 left in the first quarter.
Alarcon continued to be the lone bright spot for the Worth County as he answered Quinlin’s touchdown by taking the opening play of the drive 57 yards for a touchdown. The momentum was short-lived as Quinlin scored his third touchdown of the first quarter less than a minute later, giving the Spartans a 28-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The avalanche of misfortunes continued for Worth County on its next drive as the offense once again gave the Spartans a short field after fumbling the ball for the second time in the first half. Junior running back Gannon Phelan scored his first touchdown of the season five plays later.
Quinlin wasn’t done in the first half, though. After a third Tiger fumble, Quinlin rushed through the middle of the Worth County defense for a 37-yard touchdown.
“South Holt/Nodaway-Holt is a good football team and they just came out and hit us in the mouth tonight,” Healy said.
Worth County running back Alex Rinehart gave the Tigers’ offense some life after sitting out the first quarter of the game. Rinehart caught two passes for 46 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown on Worth County’s final drive of the half. Rinehart caught three passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in three quarters of play.
“I knew it was over at half,” Quinlin said. “When we went into halftime up 30, I knew we weren’t going to lose this football game.”
The second half belong to Alex Harris who scored on touchdown runs of 58 and 12 yards. The junior running back carried the ball just seven times in the game, but scored touchdowns on four of those runs and led the team with 134 yards.
“Alex, I’m so proud of him,” Quinlin said. “Last year football wasn’t really his thing. But he came out this year with thicker skin and he wants to get hit, he wants to hit, and he wants to score.”
The message from the Spartans this offseason was the new-found believe in their defense. The team felt like it was able to show what they’re capable of defensively Friday night by holding the Tigers to 22 points and forcing four turnovers.
“They were spot on, they were flowing to the ball and they were just a completely different team than we’ve been over the last three years,” Petersen said. “To hold a team to 22 points in 8-man is phenomenal.”
Quinlin again praised the new coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball.
“We have some really good defensive-minded coaches,” Quinlin said. “We’ve always had the ability, we just didn’t have the discipline and we just needed somebody to believe in us.”
The Spartans carried the ball 45 times for 400 yards with Quinlin and Harris both rushing for over 100 yards. The Tigers did their best to match the production, but were unable to have the same end results. Worth County rushed the ball 31 times for 268 yards.
The Tigers will have to regroup this week as the team continues to search for an offensive identity without Gladstone. Worth County will travel to Alma next week to face 8-man newcomer Santa Fe, who lost its season-opener to North Shelby 60-6.
“There are eight seniors on this team who have waited four years to be in this position, so they’re going to have to step up and lead this team,” Healy said. “We can guide them, but I think they know there is a lot that needs changed.”
The Spartans will have a bit of an advantage next week as they take on Southwest Livingston who will have a short week after playing this Sunday.
“I hope this isn’t our peak,” Petersen said. “We’ll go home and watch the film. I do know that we missed some blocks, but I’m not going to say anything tonight. I’m going to let these guys enjoy this one until Monday.”