Eagles sputter in ugly loss

Published 11:47 am Monday, October 24, 2011

Mississippi State long snapper Reed Gordon could scarcely recognize his former team as he watched Friday’s 42-15 loss to Manchester Academy after tossing the coin in the pregame.

When Gordon played tight end at Porters Chapel Academy, the Eagles were known for an explosive offense. Now, it is sputtering.

All season, the Eagles have tried to find an offensive identity.

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Are they a spread team?

A bruising I-formation team?

The answer, it seems, is neither.

A week after being unable to move the ball with any consistency against Heidelberg Academy, one play against Manchester showed how far the Eagles have fallen.

On PCA’s first possession, wideout Alton Burden waved for the ball on a go pattern with one man to beat to the end zone. Sophomore quarterback Jonah Masterson obliged with a perfect strike. The ball bounced between Burden’s jersey numbers onto the turf.

The running game, with the exception of Kawayne Gaston’s 67-yard touchdown that got PCA on the board, was bottled up as the offensive line couldn’t get a push against Manchester’s five-man front. In the second half, Gaston did most of his 212 yards of damage, but it was too little, too late.

“We ran the ball great, but we couldn’t sustain it for any amount of time,” PCA coach Wade Patrick said. “Kawayne did a great job for us.”

Masterson largely had a night to forget, tossing two interceptions with no touchdown passes. With the Eagles struggling in pass protection and Masterson unable to set his feet and throw without duress, turnovers and poor throws were inevitable.

All of it stemmed from penalties, nine of them in the first half and 15 in the game. Nearly all of them came at moments when the Eagles could least afford to give the Mavericks extra yardage or put their struggling offense in third-and-long situations.

“Our line couldn’t get a push on the passing game,” Masterson said. “We came out ready to play, but it went downhill after the first snap. We just couldn’t execute. Penalties killed us tonight. We couldn’t give them extra yardage.”

The third quarter was taken up with a pounding Manchester drive that becalmed PCA’s sails and made defeat inevitable.

“Second half, they came out pounding us and our defense wasn’t ready for us,” Masterson said. “They broke that long run and we couldn’t get our team fired up.”

This Friday, the Eagles wrap up the regular season at Prentiss Christian. With Newton Academy and Heidelberg Academy having already locked up the top two spots in District 4-A, Prentiss and PCA will be playing for third place.

But a win will be crucial to getting the Eagles some much-needed confidence heading into the first round of the Class A playoffs.

“We want to go in the playoffs with a win, no doubt,” Patrick said. “It’d do great wonders for this team to get a win. We lose a close ballgame last week, this one, and we’re in a rut now. If we can find something to build on, that’d be great for the morale of the guys.”

PCA’s first-round opponent is still uncertain. Wilkinson Christian and CENLA will meet for the District 3-A title on Friday. If PCA beats Prentiss, it would face the loser of that game.

If PCA loses to Prentiss, it would face the winner between Wilkinson and CENLA. Regardless of the opponent, PCA will be on the road for the playoff opener.