By Chris Gump
The Bulldogs were surviving life on the edge - until Pierre Desir ran there in the second half.
Down just a point at halftime, Fort Zumwalt South hung on at Howell Central until the Spartans' junior tailback busted a pair of sideline touchdown runs. Quarterback Brad Bira added the second of his two TDs in the fourth quarter and the Spartans ran to a 28-12 victory in Friday's Gateway Athletic Conference South tussle.
Desir capped the first drive of the second half with a five-yard run toward the left pylon. On the next Spartans possession, he caught the pitch and ran left again. This time he covered 56 yards for another score and a 21-6 Howell Central lead with 6 minutes, 51 seconds left in the third quarter.
"They made some big plays and we couldn't match their speed on the edge," said Bulldogs coach Don Morris. "We had to kind of pick our poison. Do you play Bira, do you play the passing game, do you play the tailback? When we chose our poison, they made us pay for it."
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Bira gained 107 yards rushing for the Spartans (4-2, 3-1 GAC South) and Desir gained 151, including 124 in the second half. After committing three turnovers in the first half, the Spartans opened the third quarter with a steady dose of the option and nine straight runs, including Desir's touchdown.
"You have to believe in what you do and we're an option team. That's what we believe in," said Spartans coach Todd Berck. "Our kids hang their hat on that. They know if we need tough yards, that's what we're going to go to. Eventually Brad settled down a little bit on the reads. He was rushing his reads a little bit in the first half."
When Desir muffed a punt following Zumwalt South's first series of the game, the Bulldogs' Austin Aldridge recovered. Zumwalt South (4-2, 3-1) capitalized by covering 30 yards in four plays. Quarterback Josh McCoy connected with receiver Chuck Hoffman for the 16-yard touchdown pass with 6:46 left in the first quarter.
The extra point was blocked and the Spartans took the lead for good on the ensuing possession. Bira lugged the ball 27 yards on one carry to get the Spartans to the Bulldogs 1-yard line and he dove in for the touchdown on the next play.
Like the Spartans, the Bulldogs were penalized for 50 yards in a first half where both offenses struggled to gain momentum. The Spartans' pass rush proved just as lethal to the Zumwalt South attack, however, as the Bulldogs' offense had six plays for negative yardage in the first half alone. Senior defensive tackle Ryan Summers notched two of Howell Central's four sacks.
"He (McCoy) is a good player. He's a fine young player. My hat's off to him. He did a great job," Berck said. "Our guys are not as quick as him. Our ends did a lot better job the second half keeping him (McCoy) contained in the pocket. Ryan Summers … that young man played his butt of this evening. They had to roll (McCoy) out, because they couldn't block Ryan in the middle. They just couldn't stand in the pocket and throw."
When McCoy got a pass in the vicinity of a receiver, Jon Clark was often there to greet him. The Spartans' junior safety had at least three hits in the second half that the Bulldogs are sure to remember.
"I wouldn't want to be a receiver coming across the middle with John Clark in the game," Berck said. "That young man's looking to take your head off every play and that's the way you play the game of football. You play it hard, you play it loose and it's a lot more fun that way."
Trailing 21-6, McCoy led the Bulldogs on an 80-yard touchdown drive that covered the final 6:30 of the third quarter. He threw 25 yards to Zack Smith for the touchdown.
But the Spartans put the game on ice with their 68-yard drive to start the fourth quarter. Bira mixed passes to Andrew Saffo and Ryan Mertz in with the ground game, then scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
The Bulldogs drove to the Spartans' seven on their next chance, but McCoy's pass fell incomplete on fourth and goal with 4:08 remaining.
"They (the Spartans) played extremely well," Morris said. "We knew they were a good football team. I thought we would play a little bit better than we executed. I think we had some chances to make some plays, and we just couldn't come up with the plays."
Francis Howell Central 28,
Fort Zumwalt South 12
Howell Central7 0 14 7 - 28
Zumwalt South6 0 6 0 - 12
FZS: Chuck Hoffman 16 pass from Josh McCoy (kick blocked), 6:46
FHC: Brad Bira 1 run (Cam Shearon kick), 3:26
FHC: Pierre Desir 5 run (Shearon kick), 8:35
FHC: Desir 56 run (Shearon kick), 6:51
FZS: Zack Smith 25 pass from McCoy (run failed), 6.3
FHC: Bira 1 run (Shearon kick), 7:35
GAC South football, Oct. 6 at Howell Central