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Etowah 56, Berkmar 21

WOODSTOCK -- Berkmar coach Jonathan Sanks knows nothing is going to be easy this year, and Friday's season-opening trip to Etowah served as a brutal reminder.

Etowah sprinted past Berkmar 56-21 Friday, running the ball at will against the Patriots. Eagles running back Jake Jones ran for 153 of his 187 yards in the first half, as Etowah built a 42-7 lead. The Eagles then went deep into the depth chart with running backs, but maintained the big lead.

If nothing else, Sanks, his coaches and his players got a chance to see what success looks like before jumping into region play. The Eagles are established, expect to win and have the talent to compete with anyone in AAAAA. That is where Sanks wants Berkmar to be sooner rather than later.

"We've got lots of kids without varsity experience," Shanks said. "We did a lot of things tonight that we are going to have to correct. We've got to wipe out that old Berkmar mentality and that takes time."

Sanks and his staff also got to see a gusty performance from their fill-in, do-everything quarterback Xavier Briggs, who ran the ball well at times and showed off a rocket of an arm. So in such a lopsided loss, there were some positives.

But the Patriots got a taste of where its 2010 season might be headed last week, losing a 48-0 scrimmage against Collins Hill. Coming off a 1-9 season, the Patriots have inexperienced varsity players throughout the roster. The hope at Berkmar is that the Patriots have hit the low point and under Sanks, a coach who led Towers to the AAA playoffs last year, the program is on the way up. The banner the team ran through read: BHS = Fresh Start.

And it might well be. But right now, Etowah is everything that Berkmar is not.

"I thought on film, we might have a chance, but I had to be real about the young guys we had," Sanks said. "What I like is that we came back and competed in the second half. It would have been easy for them to quit, but they didn't."

Berkmar first found the end zone on the legs of Briggs in the first quarter. But they were unable to sustain success. The Patriots gave up a 98-yard kick return on the next play. A few plays later, Briggs allowed himself to take a 19-yard loss on a sack instead of throwing the ball away. A couple of plays later, Etowah was back in the end zone, with a commanding 21-7 lead.

Briggs showed promise, standing his ground in the pocket and delivering several crisp throws, some of which were dropped. He showed a strong arm completing passes of 35 yards twice and then connecting on an 87-yard touchdown pass to Justyn Shackleford. Briggs threw it at least 50 yards on that play with Shackleford then outrunning the defense for the score.

And on a few quarterback draws, Briggs showed off his speed, picking up 16 yards on one. But too often, he was scrambling with no protection and his receivers covered. Add a couple of fumbles to that -- one of them inside the Etowah 1-yard line -- and a couple of long sacks and the result was no continuity.

Meanwhile, Etowah's ground attack was toying with Berkmar's defense. Running back Jake Jones and Wheaton, and quarterback Braden Nolan ate off yards at big chunks. Had the Eagles not wanted to work on the passing game, it appeared as if they could have run and not be stopped.

Berkmar returned a fumbled 90 yards, setting up a four-yard Briggs score late in the third quarter.