ANGOLA – Quite late in the illuminated evening, moments before the 24-14 victory over Manchester became official on Trine defensive back Blaek Combs’ game-ending interception, the shirtless dudes in the stands with the letters T-H-U-N-D-E-R painted on their chests began the chant, Where’s our fireworks? Where’s our fireworks?
After all, the fans who nearly filled Fred Zollner Stadium for the season opener for both teams were promised post-game pyrotechnics, and the guys (who scrambled the letters to spell HURT DEN) wanted what was coming to them.
And why not? Thursday was mostly a game of slug it out and survive; of long drives and defensive stands; of 3 yards and a clump of field turf.
But there was one moment when everything went boom. And as it came to pass, Myron Puryear’s 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 3:15 left in the first half was the significant fuse that lit Trine’s win.
Not only did his sprint down the right side of the field put Trine ahead for keeps, but Puryear’s return immediately answered a Manchester score that enabled the Spartans to catch the Thunder at 7.
This game came down to a couple mental mistakes on a kickoff, and they return it, Manchester coach Shannon Griffith said. We take those points off the board, it’s a different ballgame.
And he’s right. The 10-point margin came with 33.9 seconds left when quarterback Ryan Hargraves ran in from the 11-yard line after he completed a third-and-3 pass to Sean Collins that set up the touchdown.
The key to an opening game is to win it. That’s it, Trine coach Matt Land said. Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. Do we have things to fix? Absolutely.
That’s how kids win football games – upperclassmen, special team plays and big situations. And I think the reason we won the game is because we won the big situations.
And yet for much of the first half, the night belonged to the steady-as-she-goes tortoises.
When Trine took its 7-0 lead on quarterback Ryan Hartline’s 2-yard bootleg run early in the second quarter, it took the Thunder nearly 8 1/2 minutes to go 80 yards in 15 plays to get there. That was after a stubborn Manchester goal-line stand that stuffed Trine twice at the 1.
Now it’s Manchester’s turn to go on offense, and the Spartans used 20 plays and ate up 8:43 to go 78 yards, finishing with Austin Adams’ 4-yard run.
But then the pace picked up on Puryear’s return.
I saw an open hole, and I took it, Puryear said.
I knew I was going to do it.