Wesleyan Falls To Holy Innocents' In Grind-It-Out Clash

SANDY SPRINGS — In an era of high-powered, air-dominated spread offensive football, Friday night's Region 5-A North opener between No. 9 state-ranked Wesleyan and Holy Innocents' was somewhat of a throwback.

The Wolves and Golden Bears engaged in an old-fashioned, ground-dominated, pound-it-out affair at Riverwood High School's Hoskyn Stadium, and it was the host that proved more physical on the evening.

Holy Innocents' controlled the ball more than two-thirds of the second quarter and piled up half of their 280 yards on the evening, including a decisive 98-yard touchdown drive that helped the Golden Bears grind out a 14-0 upset of the Wolves.

"Credit Holy Innocents' for doing a lot of good things," Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen said minutes after his team fell to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in subregion play on the season. "I think that's the reason they won. They made fewer mistakes than we did and they're a very good football team."

The Wolves were also playing without starting quarterback Will Anderson, who was out the second straight week with a knee injury.

And while normal receiver Eric Sunderman and the Wesleyan offense gave a game effort, the Wolves were only able to muster 153 yards of total offense on the evening.

"That's Class A football," Pridgen said. "Every team has to deal with that. The guys that were in there fought hard and did their very best, and I'm certainly proud of that.

'"We came up with every innovation we could think of -- things (Holy Innocents') hadn't seen on film. I don't think they game planned for our wing-T package. They just had a great defensive game plan and they executed it well. My hat's off to their coaches and players."

After a first quarter in which both teams battled for field position, Holy Innocents' (3-1, 1-0) began to execute that game plan, though it look like Wesleyan had the upper hand when a Sunderman punt pinned Holy Innocents' back at its own 2-yard line in the opening minute of the second quarter.

But the Golden Bears began to methodically grind down both the clock and the Wolves, embarking on a 15-play, 98-yard drive that ate up 7:24 off the clock and included a fourth-down conversion at the Wesleyan 17.

The march ended on the following play, when Harrison Andros barreled up the middle and broke several tackles before crashing into the end zone from 17 yards out to put Holy Innocents' up 7-0 with 3:38 left in the half.

"The big drive was obviously huge," said Holy Innocents' coach Ryan Livezey, a graduate of Norcross High. "That's an incredible drive. I challenged our offensive line before the game that they were going to have to carry the load for us."

The Golden Bears then got a chance to add onto the lead when Sam Jokerst picked up Sunderman's deep pass down the left sideline and returned it 27 yards to the Wesleyan 42.

Four plays later, Holy Innocents' was in the end zone again, with Lee Davis doing the honors this time from 4 yards out with 20 seconds left in the half to push the Golden Bears' lead to 14-0 heading into intermission.

That second score turned out to be just as big as the Wesleyan defense stiffened, holding Holy Innocents' to just 80 yards in the second half.

But with the Wolves offense unable to come up with the big play, the two-score advantage was enough to keep them at bay the final 24 minutes.

"We knew that if (Sunderman) were in the game (at quarterback), their game plan was going to have to change and they were going to be kind of limited to what they could do," Livezey said. "In (Class) A football, that's always a danger. If you lose one key guy, a whole dynamic of things can change."

Still, Wesleyan had a few moments, with Sunderman accounting for 95 yards of total offense, while Zander Yost and Brandon Gilliam each managed more than 5 yards per carry.

But it wasn't enough to match a determined Holy Innocents' effort, led by Andros' 74 yards on the ground and 151 yards of total offense from Golden Bears quarterback John Galloway.