Ponies Close, But Not Enough

Contrel Brown watches the play of his defense from the sidelines. Photo by Matthew Yoder.

Story and Photo by Matthew Yoder 

As losses mount, Chincoteague’s Football can be the most imperfect of sports. Mismatches on the field, turnovers, and missed calls can easily decide the outcome of a game, and any combination of these can be devastating. Chincoteague’s 24-21 loss Saturday in Delaware against the FCA Bucks serves as a reminder of this premise and will be a tough pill to swallow moving forward in a difficult, winless season.

The Ponies defense held the Bucks in check on their opening drive. Ayden Leonard and Lucas Turner stood their ground on a fourth and short attempt by the Bucks, forcing a brief drive and a turnover on downs.

Coming off a week in which the dual back rotation led to positive gains, Chincoteague opened with a 15-yard run from Camron Davis. Wes Britton carried on the next two plays, fumbling but recovering on one, and falling in agony with a leg injury on the second. He rolled to the bench and was for intents and purposes limited for much of the remainder of the game. Chincoteague’s opening drive continued to first and goal but retreated on a fumbled snap and a couple of incomplete passes, yielding no points.

The Bucks’ second drive was a true seesaw affair. Dillon Moore would run for good yardage for the Bucks, only to be stopped by the Ponies’ Billy Reed on the following play. Moore would bounce back with another good run, then get stood up by Davis on defense. The Bucks made significant gains on a pass play from Hunter DiFava to Tyler Hudson, handing them a first and goal as well, but a fumbled handoff quickly put the ball back in Chincoteague’s possession. The first quarter ended scoreless as the Ponies’ defense bent but would not break.

Chincoteague opened the second quarter with a stalled offensive drive deep in their own territory. They were forced to punt and gave the ball back to FCA with great field position. Again the defense came up large. Davis topped Moore in the backfield for a loss, and consecutive passes put the Bucks in fourth and long. Jacob Watson broke through the line to force the incompletion on third down, and on fourth down he upped his game, stepping into the passing lane, intercepting the pass from DiFava.

The momentum shift was electric for the Ponies. Their passing game came alive as Giovanni Rosanova III rolled out to the right and found Leonard for a 25-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Chincoteague delivered on a bit of trickery, handing the ball off to Davis who threw left-handed from the  backfield to a wide open receiver in the end zone. The 20-yard touchdown gave the Ponies their first lead in ages and ignited a strong contingent of fans who made the drive north. The pass play was pure magic, a harbinger, and was new to the Ponies’ repertoire.

“We practiced it once this week,” said Davis.

Not to be outdone, the Bucks responded with a heavy dose of counter plays from Moore on their next drive. They gained good field position on a strong kickoff return from Joshua Azeltine. A pass interference call and a run from Moore gave the Bucks consecutive gains of 15 yards and pushed the ball to the goal line. Leonard stopped DiFava on a quarterback sneak, but Moore fought on the next play for the one-yard touchdown. A successful 2-point conversion gave the Bucks an 8-7 lead.

Jacob Watson steps into the passing line and intercepts for Chincoteague. Photo by Matthew Yoder.

Chincoteague had little time left to work with in the half but moved the ball efficiently on the legs of Davis and Rosanova. They struck gold again on their trick pass, this time with Davis throwing across the field for a 22-yard score. The Ponies did an amazing job with time management on the drive, because all afternoon they were fighting issues with an ineffective scoreboard time clock. The running time was kept by the referees throughout. The Ponies missed the extra point but secured a 13-8 halftime lead.

Halftime was serene as Chincoteague’s players sat quietly amidst the Bucks’ senior day festivities, and Pony fans basked in the beautiful sun  and Saturday afternoon start time.

“The kids aren’t so tired, no lag time from Friday’s school day,” said Tammy Rosanova, mother of Giovanni.

The players seemed particularly relaxed, and Rosanova talked of assistant coach, Contrel Brown, having taken players for breakfast at Bill’s  Seafood prior to the game. A humble man, Brown jokingly stated, “I cook really well in the restaurant.”

His generosity is worth mentioning.

“I’m the kind of person to do anything for the team,” said Brown.

As the third quarter approached, coaches and players were quick to get focused.

“Don’t get too tired, stay up, stay loose,”said Leonard. On the coaching side, Tony Nock uttered, “Ponies up, start stretching it out.” The game, however, took a more decidedly tense tone. The teams traded interceptions in the quarter. When the Bucks intercepted Rosanova, they capitalized. Azeltine got behind the defense for a 36-yard pass play, and though the Ponies made a couple of goal line stands, Moore walked into the end zone on third down, scored on the 2-point play and the lead switched hands.

The quarter ended on a disputed call that changed the dynamic of the game. It appeared as though the Bucks fumbled a punt recovery, but the referees concluded that Chincoteague touched the ball first, downing the ball. Chincoteague’s fans were alive and invested from the outset but now each one of them viewed every play from a heightened perspective. Nock was disappointed by the call but encouraged his team to regroup.

“Defense, make a stand,” urged Nock.

Chincoteague’s players did their best to put the play behind them.

Players like Jacob Rooker, Kyle Willis, Billy Reed, and Jacob Watson made strong plays on defense, but DiFava sprang loose down the left sideline for a demoralizing 42-yard score. The Bucks lead grew to 24-13.

Chincoteague mustered one last push on a drive marked by big plays, penalties, missed calls, and a late game re-emergence from Wes Britton. Rosanova connected for 15 yards on a pass to Britton, capping a chaotic drive. Davis ran for the 2-point conversion bringing the Ponies within three but time was limited.

The Bucks ran the remaining seconds off the clock and the game was in the books. Pony fans exited with a bitter taste, but focused on the positives, lifting up their defeated team. A lot could be said of calls that were made or not made, but Chincoteague gave a tremendous effort and both teams competed hard throughout.

“Our kids learned some life lessons today, but they left everything on the field,” said Nock.

His counterpart, Dan Hines, was pleased with his team’s effort and the competitiveness of the game.

“Our offensive line really asserted themselves in the second half,” said Hines.

“It was a great high school football game, it will be fun to go down there next year,” Hines said.

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