SOUTH CENTRE TWP. The idea of a win was probably already gone for Hughesville. Down 31 points at halftime to Central Columbia, the Spartans' fate had all but been sealed.
In receiving the second-half kickoff, though, there was an opportunity for the Spartans to start over. They could continue with the traction they began to gain toward the end of the first half. But in just one play, even that hope was dashed.
Hughesville fumbled on the first play of the second half, turning it over for the third time Friday night, and Central Columbia gained more than 400 yards of offense in a 45-7 win in the season-opener for both teams.
Central Columbia's offense was a model of balance, throwing for 214 yards, and running for 215 yards. That starting quarterback Jordan Thivierge threw for more than 200 yards wasn't much of a surprise after he three for more than 1,100 yards a year ago. But running for more than 200 yards was exactly what Central Columbia head coach Jason Hippenstiel was hoping to see.
The 215 yards last night represented more than 25 percent of the Blue Jays' team rushing total from a year ago.
"It had to be better," Hippenstiel said of the running game. "We knew last year we had to get a run game going. Teams can get exotic in coverage when they know all you're going to do is throw. And we really have a nice stable of backs."
And Central had plenty of opportunities to get that running game going. Hughesville ran just seven offensive plays in the first quarter. It gained just two first downs in the first half both of which came on one drive and the Blue Jays averaged nearly 10 yards per snap in the first half.
Of Hughesville's three offensive possessions in the first half last night, two went three-and-out, and the other ended on an interception on the first play.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Hughesville head coach Andy Brown said. "We're very familiar with them because we both go to (Bloomsburg University) camp together. We knew they had a lot of really good guys coming back. They've been heavy on the pass in the past, but they're certainly capable of running the ball this year. It wasn't a surprise what they did."
And what Central did was abuse the Spartans defense on the perimeter. Brown said he liked the way his perimeter defenders were able to turn running plays to the corner back up the field, but they just didn't have support to be able to make the tackle.
The Blue Jays had 15 carries last night that went for at least 5-yard gains. Credit a Central Columbia offensive line that Hippenstiel said made a concerted effort to get in the weight room to help improve the running game.
A year ago, the Blue Jays gained just 800 rushing yards as a team for the season, and had just one player rush for 200 yards.
"We talked about it since the end of the season last year," Hippenstiel said. "(The offensive line) invested in the weight room. They've done the hard work."
"They outnumbered us a couple times on the edge. They were getting down to our inside linebackers," Brown said. "We had good support on the outside and turned them in, we just had nobody flowing to the ball once we got the back turned in."
The improved running game only further opened up the passing game for Central quarterback Jordan Thivierge, who twice threw for better than 200 yards in a game last year. He hit receiver Jarrod Flick on a 70-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter just 21 seconds after Aaron Johnson scored a rushing touchdown for the Jays.
Thivierge then executed a perfect 2-minute drill at the end of the first half, completing 5 of 5 passes after Central took over at its own 26-yard line with 56 seconds to go in the first half. He threw for 72 yards on the drive, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Hine with just over 1 second to go in the half to give Central a 31-0 lead.
"We needed to do that," Hippenstiel said. "It was a chance to work on it and Jordan did a great job. We had the timeouts left and with 1.6 seconds on the clock, that's about as good as you can do it."
Hughesville never seemed to find consistency in its offense as the Wing-T rushing attack averaged just over 3 yards per carry. The Spartans moved the ball toward the end of the first half on a 14-play drive that took nearly 6 minutes off the clock, but the drive stalled at the Central 26-yard line.
The Spartans scored their lone touchdown in the third quarter when a 21-yard run by Jacoby Foresman set up a 27-yard touchdown pass from Justin Lambert to Kris Newman.
"We have to be able to move the football, flip field position," Brown said. "You can't wait that long against a good football team to move the ball. But it's the first game and there's nothing you can do about it now except go back to work and try to get better. I didn't think we were very disciplined tonight and the mistakes showed that. This is definitely disappointing, but it's a long season."