On Friday, March 26, the Coronado Islanders football team returned home to play a game under the lights for what seemed like the first time in forever. You could feel the buzz and excitement in the air among all in attendance, even an hour before kickoff. And Friday night’s game certainly matched all the pre-game buzz, and then some.
The Islanders offense was the first to take the field on Friday and did so with a new signal-caller under center. As freshmen quarterback No. 19 Hudson Herber got the start, his first career start as an Islander. Coronado’s opening drive would, unfortunately, end in a three and out. On the flip side slide, the University City Centurions would go on a quick seven-play drive that would set them up with a first and goal at the Coronado 5-yard line. However, with their backs up against the wall, the Islander’s defense would stand tough.
On first and goal No. 75, Clark Anderson and No. 55 Donny Couts would have a meeting in the University City backfield, and the town D-linemen combined for a 4-yard tackle for loss on first and goal. On third and goal, No. 4 Jayden Ferrer would make a great open-field tackle to bring up fourth and goal for University City. The Centurions would elect to go for it rather than kicking a field goal, which would prove to be a costly decision as Couts would snuff out the fourth and goal run, giving the ball back to the Coronado offense.
I asked head coach Kurt Hines about his defense’s play in the RedZone on Friday night. “We let them move the ball up and down the field a little too much on Friday night. We sort of played the bend but didn’t break defense. But I was really proud of how our players, time and time again, held up with their backs up against a wall. It really showed just what this team is made of and its resilience.”
Much of the first half and, really, the entire game, would be that of the Islander defense. Despite several drives starting on their own end of the field, Coronado’s defense never blinked. Towards the end of the second quarter, just over a minute before halftime University City would set up shop on the Coronado 16 yard line and looked to be in prime position to take the lead heading into halftime. Following a third and 13 conversion, University City yet again moved the ball inside the Islander 5 yard line. But the wily Islander defense would yet again stand tall and hold the Centurions out of the end zone to keep the score level at 0-0 at the half.
The defensive stalemate would continue into the third quarter, as would the continued strong play from the Coronado secondary. On University City’s opening drive of the second half, Ferrer would jump in front of a pass from University City’s quarterback Ikaika Bell and set up Coronado on their 47-yard line. But just two plays later, UC would get the ball right back after a strip of quarterback Hudson Herber. With University City back in Coronado territory, it would not take long for the Centurions to yet again be on the Islander’s doorstep. But as they had done two times already, Coronado would yet again stonewall them at the goal line and return the ball to the Islander offense.
It appeared heading into the fourth quarter that neither offense had a solution to either team’s defense. While the Islanders were able to move the ball, they had multiple drives stall due to penalties and turnovers.
However, with 9:08 left in the game, University City’s quarterback Bell would find his wide receiver Curtis Whitehurst II in the back of the endzone on a fantastic, though debatable, touchdown. Interestingly, instead of going for the extra point, University City went for the two-point conversion, which Coronado defense would deny, keeping the game 6-0.
Two drives later, however, the Islanders would catch a long-awaited break. following a shanked punt by the Centurions, Coronado had its best starting field position of the night as they took over at the University City 36 yard line with 4:58 left. With the short field, the Islanders would finally strike. After a 15 yard first-down carry from No. 5 Taylor-Pate, Coronado would be in the red zone for the first time all night. On the next carry, No. 9 Zane Delcore, who had been running hard all night, would break off the game-tying touchdown run with 3:15 left. And following a converted PAT (point after touchdown), the Islanders would have the 7-6 lead.
For one final drive, the Islanders would need its defense to step up. The Centurions drive seemed to be off to a strong start following a 19-yard gain on a first down screen pass that would bring the ball to mid-field. But on second and 9 from the Islander 48, University City’s quarterback would roll to his left and throw into double coverage that cornerback Aiden O’Neil, who has blanketed receivers in the first two weeks, would intercept and give Coronado the ball back with just 2:04 left in the game.
I asked coach Hines about the stellar play of O’Neil over the team’s first two weeks. “I knew Aiden was a good player, but we did not know he was going to be shutting down wide receivers as he has thus far. He has great speed and length, which is what you want on the outside, plus he’s coachable and a really hard worker. He’s done everything right this season.”
Coronado still needed one first down, with the Centurions still having three timeouts, before they could go into victory formation. So, who would Coach Hines call on to close his game? Well, on two and 12, the freshmen quarterback Herber called his number and broke off a 56-yard run, taking the ball all the way down to the UC one-yard line and, more importantly, sealing the victory for the Islanders.
“For his first start, Hudson was phenomenal. He showed good poise and was a good leader for us on the field Friday night. He gives us a lot to build on,” said Hines.
Now sitting at 1-1, Coronado looks at this week’s home game versus League opponent, the Cardinals of Hover High School. “They have some big kids up front that can move the line, but from what we can see, they seem a little undisciplined,” said Hines, “so, we hope to take advantage of that. The biggest thing is we don’t want to fall into a trap game after playing as well as we have the first two weeks.”
The Islanders take on the Cardinals at home on Friday, April 2 at 7 p.m.