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Skyhawks Soar to Emphatic Home Victory in First Ever Meeting Against Mountainside

Kyle Pinnell

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In August 2012 Southridge Alumni Andrew J. Keller passed away while serving his country in Afghanistan. Now, just over six years later, the Southridge Skyhawks honored him in the best way possible: with a win.

The Skyhawks (2-3) scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game and never looked back as they outscored the Mountainside Mavericks (0-5) 42-3 in the first half en route to a commanding 56-17 home win against the newest school in the Metro League on Friday night.

“I thought it was a good overall game. It being the first game against Mountainside it was special and especially on AJK night since we haven’t got a win yet,” senior captain Graham Auer said. “This was good and maybe it’s a good turning point for the season as the last two losses we’ve had we should’ve won. So it just proves that we got game too.”

Southridge running back Blake Sims had one of the biggest games of his Southridge career as he rushed for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. Sims ran for over 130 yards in the first quarter and finished the first half with over 200 yards as the Mavericks couldn’t find any way to stop him.

“Blake’s a flat out stud. When we need a crucial play he makes it,” Southridge head coach Kevin Bickler said. “He can start and stop with the best of them and he had a phenomenal game tonight. I think he was motivated as well with it being a rivalry game and made a statement that he is one of the best backs in the Metro League, if not one of the best backs in the state.”

Two of the Skyhawks biggest plays of the game came on a fourth down situation.

The game started out with the Mavericks forcing the Hawks into a fourth down in their own territory. Instead of punting the ball, Bickler decided to keep his offense out there on fourth and seven. Quarterback Darik Salinas was able to break the pocket and throw a dime fifty yards down field to a wide-open Joshua Calo for the first touchdown of the game.

“We were able to line up and do a hard count sometimes, especially on plays like that and if we see they’re giving us something then we’ll call the play at the line of scrimmage,” Bickler said. “One of those plays was kinda a breakdown scramble and the good thing is that, like Josh Calo when he scored on it, he stayed on his route. He saw Darik scrambling and sometimes receivers will stop running when they see that, but he stayed on his route and that’s why Darik was able to hit him for that big play.”

On the Skyhawks next possession, they were forced into a fourth down again by the Maverick defense, even deeper inside their own territory. On fourth and one, Sims took a toss to the right 67 yards and hurdled a defender before finding paydirt.

“I think they weren’t ready for our fourth down runs and we exploited that. Our line was amazing and I give all the credit in the world to those guys,” Sims said.

Just twenty seconds later, the Skyhawk defense forced Mountainside quarterback, Justin Hughes, into a fumble which Sims scooped up and ran into the endzone giving the Skyhawks a 21-3 lead.

The Skyhawks finished off the half with a 94 yard, five-minute drive which started with Salinas picking off Hughes on the four-yard line and ended with a one-yard touchdown by running back Romel Moreland, who finished the night with two touchdowns.

The Mavericks scored their first touchdown late in the third quarter as a long catch-and-run by wide receiver Yule Schrock set up a one-yard score by running back Eldridge Broussard.

Broussard was responsible for both of the Mavericks touchdowns in the game, both coming in goal-to-go situations.

“I thought we played well on both sides,” junior receiver Katsuo Steward said. “It was a good game. We probably could’ve dominated a bit more on defense, we didn’t want to let them score at all so that was a factor, but it was awesome that we got our first AJK game and we want to keep that as a legacy going on.”

With the win against the Mavericks Bickler has finally captured that elusive home win. In six games as the head coach at Southridge High School, he is just 1-5 in home games. For the first time in two years, the Southridge students got to storm the field and celebrate with the team.

“The crowd was hopping tonight and we always tell our kids that you got to win at home because your fan base is there, people are there to see you perform and sometimes they don’t make it to away games,” Bickler said. “It means a lot because I want to represent our school, our community, parents, and everybody who puts in so much to help us be successful and do it right in front of them and our home crowd.”

One thing the Skyhawks must fix heading into the rest of their season is getting unnecessary penalties. Against the Mavericks the Skyhawks were called for two separate unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. In a closer game, those two penalties can be the difference between a thrilling victory or an agonizing defeat.

“It’s unacceptable. We’re going to talk about that next week for sure and I know it’s a rivalry game and tensions are high, but it’s unacceptable and we’ll get it corrected,” Sims said.

“Anytime you get personal fouls you gotta clean that up because in a tight game it could cost you the game,” Bickler said. “I think sometimes kids get caught up in the competitive spirit and they do things without thinking or make stupid plays because they’re being over-aggressive. We got it on film and we’ll clean it up because that is something that I don’t want to be a thorn in our side heading forward.”

Any win is important, but a victory over Mountainside in the Andrew J. Keller memorial game has a unique feeling to it. The fact that this was the first win in five attempts makes it even more special to both the players and the coaches.

“It means the world,” Sims said. “We come out here every year and play for our fallen hero Andrew James Keller. It’s a great feeling to get the win.”

“AJK was a big Skyhawk Football player; he was everything that our coach wants us to be in this program” Steward added. “Winning this game is something that we want to keep doing to remember him.”

On a night put together annually to honor a Southridge hero, the result of the game meant more than the scoreline.

“It means a lot to know that we played like he played tonight. We’ve been close in the past in this game and it’s been close against good teams,” Bickler said. “Tonight I’m just proud of how our kids played until the very end. They played physical, hard-nosed football. They didn’t care who got the credit, they just wanted to win the game and played until the very end.”

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Skyhawks Soar to Emphatic Home Victory in First Ever Meeting Against Mountainside