Story and Photos by Matthew Yoder
For a school looking to make significant gains in 2019, the Arcadia Firebirds opened the season with a real statement in idyllic late summer conditions. Tenacious pursuit on the defensive end of the ball, balance on offense, and big plays on special teams paced a 51-0 clinic on the road against the Northampton Yellow Jackets.
Arcadia coach Alan Hall strode the sidelines pregame stating, “This is the start of the finish,” alluding to 17 seniors on the team determined to make their mark on the schools’ record books this season.
From the outset, the game, dubbed the inaugural Battle of the Bay, quickly became a match of disparity in both experience and speed. The Yellow Jackets opened with strong runs by Tyrell Crockett, but for them, the game stagnated into a contest of one step forward, two steps back. Arcadia’s pursuit on defense was relentless and at times unstoppable.
Coach Hall was enthusiastically pleased with the play of his defense, a unit that surrendered only 44 yards all night and never allowed Northampton to cross midfield.
“I’m happy with the pursuit and gang tackling, the line is pushing back three yards,” Hall said at halftime.
At times five or six defenders converged on a tackle, leaving the public address announcer lost in a mass of jerseys and left to proclaim on numerous occasions, “A host of Firebirds on the tackle.”
Players such as Keith Grinnage, Demonta Copes, and many others up and down the roster charged a porous line, which left the Yellow Jackets fighting against third and long situations all night.
“This was a learning process. We had 14 sophomores playing and we were sophomores heavy on the line,” said Northampton coach J.T. Edney.
Northampton lost 17 seniors to graduation, and their depth chart and playbook was further challenged by early injuries to starting quarterback Liam Flynn and tight end Jeremiah Major.
Northampton ran schemes with Crockett under center to no avail, and as Arcadia deciphered its adjustments. the Yellow Jackets increasingly became one dimensional.
William Scarborough, one of Arcadia’s host of defenders, summed up Northampton’s’ struggles following the loss of Flynn.
“The offense is simple, they run the ball to the strong side,” he said.
Assistant coach Dan Macca instructed his team all night to “establish the corner, gang tackle, and get a good clean hit.”
And so it was all night.
Arcadia’s offense was equally impressive. The pace set by quarterback Lethon Williams and running back Tiair Bibbins was without match.
Arcadia opened the game primarily on the ground. A first-quarter touchdown by Williams on the team’s second possession opened the scoring.
The Firebirds began to make the game a runaway in the second quarter behind impressive runs by Bibbins. He often cut back across the field reading defenses on the fly and his speed and the ease at which he eluded tacklers led to two scores in the quarter. He credited strong play from his teammates.
“I’ve got faith in my team, thanks to my blockers,” said Bibbins.
A second touchdown by Williams and ensuing two-point conversion by Brandon Bibbins contributed to a commanding 28-0 lead at halftime.
The start of the second half displayed a flurry of big plays by Arcadia’s special teams. A kick return for a touchdown, a safety on Northampton’s first possession, and another return for a touchdown on the free kick following the safety pushed the score to 44-0 and activated the continuously rolling clock.
A sizeable and spirited crowd cheered voraciously for the Firebirds through the action.
One such spectator, Arnita Ward said, “I’m gonna be hoarse tomorrow,” shouting “Firebirds are fired up,” with counterpart and self-proclaimed number one granny cheerleader, Regina Finney.
Finney, whose grandson Airey is one of Arcadia’s mature senior leaders said, “He insisted I be at the first game,” and stated that the support has the power to “turn the game around, they’ve gotta know somebody’s behind them.”
For Airey, his mother and grandmother were passionate examples of that.
“You gotta love it, I wanna do good for them, their support plays huge on the team,” Airey said.
On this night, the intensity of a hungry senior-laden team was silencing to the opposing crowd. Their well-packed stands could be overheard saying “let’s keep fighting” deep into the game, but Arcadia continued to press.
Arcadia used their closing drives on offense to open the passing game and Williams acclimated to sitting in the pocket expertly. He connected on tight spirals to Jaden Hope and a touchdown pass to Tiair Bibbins to conclude the scoring.
Coach Hall looked at the waning moments of the game not as a means to drive up the score but as a “great opportunity to run live situations.”
Postgame, as his kids exited the field in jubilation, Hall was done and on to the next game in his head against Decatur this Friday.
“I’m already game prepping,” Hall said.
Following the game, coach Edney quietly gathered his team with great composure.
He, too, was impressed by the speed of Arcadia on both sides of the ball and said his young team needs to be “getting used to the speed of the game.”
“We’ll get it corrected,” said Edney confidently.
“Everything comes down to film and we’ll get the right 11 on the field,” Edney concluded.
For Acadia, optimism permeates the humble attitude of its team moving forward.
“We’re doing something we haven’t done in a long time,” said Bibbins.