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Eagles cruising, whip Marion to crack .500

If the Francis Marion Rams came loaded for Eagles, then they must have been using bird shot instead of the high-brass shells needed to overcome a reinvigorated Goshen team.

The Eagles stomped their region opponents 55-30 on Homecoming in what was mostly a Goshen-sided run-away.

While the Goshen (4-3, 3-2 AHSAA Class 2A, Region 3) offense picked up 312 total yards for the night, the victory was as much about defense as anything – with senior Matthew Jackson leading the team with eight tackles and three assists. Sophomore Jermaine Smith had six tackles and one assist on the night and sophomore Marcus Jackson stayed in the mix with five tackles and four assists.

“It’s great to win at Homecoming,” Goshen head coach Joe Thornton said. “The greatest thing about it is how our fans turned out to support the kids and that means a lot. We played a lot guys (on defense) and we got tired because it turned into a really long game, but our guys just played an outstanding game.”

It was the defense that set up Goshen’s first score barely two minutes into the game. It was a play that set the momentum for the rest of the night. Goshen freshman Reggie Foster intercepted a Preston Melton pass on the Rams’ (1-6, 1-4) second play from scrimmage. An illegal procedure penalty later, Jackson, who gained 126 yards rushing on 14 carries, galloped 46 yards into the end zone to put six on the board. His follow-up performance for the point after was solid.

Just three minutes later, Foster would find pay dirt after a Jackson 17-yard carry – a score that was once again set up when the defense. Pressure on Melton forced a fumble.

The first quarter would end with the Eagles recovering a punt on the Rams 1-yard line.

A series of penalties pushed the Eagles back to a first-and-35 situation when Goshen senior quarterback Tyreese Wingard, who would complete 4-of-8 attempts for 72 yards, connected with Jackson on a screen pass. Jackson weaved 40 yards for the touchdown with almost six minutes to go in the half.

The Rams, undaunted by the 27-0 score, mounted a drive that would consume all but 21.9 seconds of the half and posted their first score when a Melton pass found JaMarcus Billingsley in the end zone.

With 13 seconds left on the clock, Wingard’s lone interception by Jarvion Murphy gave the Rams a last chance on which they couldn’t capitalize. They made good on their momentum early in the third quarter, stinging Goshen for a quick touchdown.

Not to be deterred, Goshen freshman Marcus Coleman carried the ball 11 yards for a touchdown, and Jackson raced 87 yards on a punt return for a touchdown with 3:40 left in the third quarter.

The Rams answered with a drive that consumed 3:39 and a Melton to Billingsley three-yard pass for six. Melton rushed in for a good two-point conversion, cutting the Eagle lead to 20.

An onside kick with one second left in the quarter that drew a referee into the pile-up was not enough for a Rams recovery. At the bottom of pile was Goshen freshman Jonathan Thomas with a death grip on the ball. The Eagles would start the final quarter on their own 45-yard line.

Less than four minutes later, Wingard scored on a quarterback keeper. Jackson missed his first PAT of the season after the score.

“The ball just slipped off (the tee) and I didn’t get my foot on it good,” Jackson said.

The Rams managed to drive to the Eagle 30 in six plays after the kickoff return and Melton found receiver Jerome Smith in the end zone to bring the Rams to within 18, the closest spread of the game.

On Goshen’s very next possession, a busted play gave Wingard a 70-yard ally to the Ram end zone, and Jackson made good on the PAT to broaden the gap to 25 points.

Foster intercepted another pass on the Rams’ next possession to give the Eagles another scoring opportunity. Another busted play gave the ball back to Marion at the Eagle 41, but the Eagle defense shut door on the game.

Thornton said he has seen dramatic improvement in the ability of his offensive line.

“They did a good job picking up the defensive scheme, and Francis Marion ran a lot of crazy stuff on defense,” Thornton said. “Coach (Howard) Ballard really worked with our line this week in practice and that paid off tonight.”

The Eagles face Highland Home’s Flying Squadron next Friday and Thornton said his team would be focusing on defensive precision.

“They run the Notre Dame Box and a lot of misdirection, so we’ll have to be on our toes,” he said. “In the past weeks, our defensive line – Heath Swanzy, Whitman Merit, Matt Jackson and Jon Ginyard – have gotten a lot better and Jermaine Smith has stepped up a lot at linebacker.”