Story and Photo by Matthew Yoder
The story reads like a broken record for the Chincoteague Ponies. One team drives the ball effectively to start but only so far and short of the end zone, while the other utilizes determined legs and capitalizes on big-play situations. Unfortunately for Chincoteague the needle has scratched at a point in their season marked by stalled offense and shutout losses. Friday’s 34-0 defeat on homecoming night against Broadwater Academy was Chincoteague’s fifth loss to open the season, and the third in a row they failed to put points on the board.
The game had everything you’ve come to expect from an annual homecoming. A beautiful fall-like evening, a tailgate atmosphere, kids circling the track taunting the opponents’ sideline, and returning alumni reliving glories.
On the field of play, however, Broadwater Academy held court, and Gunnar Gus stole the show for the Vikings.
The first quarter was a draw, with both teams moving the ball with some gains but to no avail on the scoreboard. Wes Britton did his best to push the Ponies downfield, both running and receiving the ball. The Ponies actually started the second quarter in the Vikings red zone, poised to set an early lead but a false start penalty, negative yards on a running attempt, and two incomplete passes halted the drive and led to a loss of downs.
Broadwater Academy similarly moved the ball on the subsequent drive only to push themselves back with penalties and incomplete passes.
Chincoteague blocked the ensuing punt and Lucas Turner recovered for the Ponies at the Vikings 20. The surge in momentum was met with a spirited defensive stand by the Vikings. James Gilbert slipped past the Ponies line forcing an incomplete pass on third and long. The next play truly set the course of the game moving forward. Forced outside of a field goal attempt, but too close to punt, Chincoteague opted to go for it on fourth down. Giovanni Rosanova III rolled right and attempted a pass to the end zone. Gunnar Gus anticipated the pass, intercepting it five yards deep and seamlessly kept his legs churning, running the length of the field for a touchdown.
“He’s a one-man show, that was a real game changer,” said Chincoteague coach Tony Nock.
Wes Britton responded with a strong kickoff return but the offense again stiffened.
“Wes is finding holes but we’ve got to spread it out,” said Chincoteague athletic director Jimmy Bloxom. “Everything is tight, the edges are ready.”
Broadwater Academy took over on a loss of downs and came out running. Quarterback Brant Bloxom eluded defenders in the pocket to gain positive yards on his feet. Cain Taylor and Walt Etheridge furthered the Vikings’ effort and Gus completed the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion made it 16-0 with 1:19 to go in the half.
Chincoteague pressed in two-minute offense mode. Their approach was slowed by pressure from Ben Price and James Gilbert, forcing a quick punt. Gus received his final punt of the night and was spared from a touchdown only by himself. He tripped en route to the end zone but the message was clear. The Ponies punted away from him the remainder of the game and the Vikings went into the festivity-laden halftime with all the momentum.
Wade Townsend, a fan, was disheartened by the direction the game was headed for the Ponies at halftime.
“They’re not doing it, it’s basic fundamental stuff,” Townsend said.
He and others recounted how Broadwater Academy used to be a pushover on the schedule for Chincoteague.
“It usually was a reliable win for them,” said James Taylor, another fan.
Not on this night, and not in the eyes of onlookers on the Vikings sideline.
Harry Betts, a man who at one time coached at Atlantic High School, viewed the game very expertly at the ripe old age of 87.
“They’re running them to death, the defense can’t get off the field,” said Betts.
He shared a rich history in football on this night of remembrance.
“I loved coaching,” said Betts, who is affectionately known as “coach” on the Shore, and as the second half commenced he kept an eye to every play.
The one-man show kept rolling and accelerated out of halftime.
Chincoteague attempted an onside kick but failed to recover. An able run by Gus, a pump fake downfield from Bloxom to Clay Wardius, and a 12-yard touchdown run from Gus took all of 1:10 and upped the score to 22-0.
Chincoteague again drove the ball with strong runs from Camron Davis but stalled.
Going into the matchup, Broadwater coach Eddie Spencer was concerned about Chincoteague’s ground game, but addressed the problem by inserting more “beefy guys” to slow them down.
The adjustments worked and Chincoteague again punted. Two plays later, Gus ran for a 79-yard touchdown off a simple screen pass. Colby Hess stopped the Vikings for the second time on a two-point conversion but the damage was already substantial.
“The Chincoteague crowd is really solemn, bless their hearts,” said Betts with all sincerity.
Later, Etheridge scored on the ground for the Vikings to make the score 34-0.
To their credit the Ponies continued to fight in an effort to at least put points on the board. This led to the most passionate final minute of a 34-0 game witnessed all season. The Ponies fought, while the Vikings, along with their animated coaches and fans attempted to preserve the shutout. The Ponies had a touchdown called back on a holding penalty and drifted farther from the red zone. The Vikings second unit defense held its ground, sending the team running beneath the scoreboard for a post-game photo op.
On Chincoteague’s end, Nock huddled his team for an extended talk.
“They’re defeated, they’re beat,” said Nock. “We come out moving the football, then we stop, I never expected this. As a coach I need to regroup and start Monday fresh.’
Chincoteague’s players kept talking as Nock left the huddle.
Ayden Leonard described being winded, with a dwindling roster demanding more out of him and his teammates every game.
“We gotta work in practice, we’re getting gassed in the games. We gotta play like it’s our last year,” said Leonard, alluding to the fact that Chincoteague will be returning only 8 players next year.
Coach Spencer, victory cigar in hand, said of Chincoteague, “it hurt them when they lost Bowden.”
To his team and this game, he spoke directly.
“My kids worked hard, it was a great game, and a great crowd on both Sides.”
With the win, Broadwater Academy moved to 3-2 and next faces off against Isle of Wight Academy this Friday. Chincoteague will next take on Portsmouth Christian.