Tigers finish strong in win over El Dorado Springs

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Defensive struggle or offensive ineptitude. Take your pick. At any rate, the Nevada Tigers had enough in the tank at the end to chalk up a 19-0 Homecoming win over the El Dorado Springs Bulldogs on Friday. "It was one that we needed," said Nevada coach Jerry Cornelius. "There's no two ways about it, we should have won last week (14-7 loss to Lamar), so we needed to recover." The Tigers (1-1) scored 19 points in the last 78 seconds of the fourth quarter to blow open a scoreless contest. A forced fumble on a hit by senior lineman Mikel Gragg opened the door for the Tigers, who marched 49 yards in eight plays to paydirt. Fullback Kaleb Leonard capped the march on a one-yard dive with 1:18 left. Two pass plays from senior quarterback Roger Shafer to senior wideout Tommy Werner were key to keeping the scoring drive alive. The first was a 27-yard completion on a second-and-nine which put the Tigers at the Bulldog 23. The second was, perhaps, even more critical. Faced with a third-and-seven at the Bulldog 20, the Shafer-to-Werner connection hooked up for nine yards and a first down at the 11. A nine-yard run by senior tailback Thomas Pitts set up two one-yard plunges by Leonard for the eventual game-winner. Shafer's point-after sent Nevada to a 7-0 lead. Shafer, questionable coming in because of a slight shoulder injury suffered in practice, ignited the offense when inserted in the fourth quarter. He completed 3-of-4 passes for 63 yards, including another 27-yarder to Werner. Said Cornelius, "He (Shafer) came in and did a great job, threw a couple that our receivers should have caught and completed the two long passes. We weren't sure he could throw, but when it got down to crunch time, he said he could, so we put him in." El Dorado (0-2) squandered a couple of excellent scoring opportunities during the game. The Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs at the Nevada 15 in the first period, then an interception by sophomore defensive back Keith Overton killed a drive at the Nevada 1 as the first half ended. Overton, along with sophomore teammates Logan Moore and Klayton Leonard were singled out by Cornelius. "I've got to give our sophomores (credit)," he said, "because we threw a bunch of 'em out there, quickly and on-the-fly. We didn't have any choice, because of injuries, and they stepped up and did a great job." Nevada blew a couple of scoring chances of its own. The Tigers went four-and-out at the El Dorado 21 in the second quarter and turned it over on a fumble, again at the Bulldogs 21, in the fourth period. Following the Nevada scoring drive, Pitts picked off a Bulldog pass in the right flat on the first play of their ensuing possession and returned it 31 yards to increase the lead to 13-0 with 1:05 remaining. Then, with 11 ticks on the clock, a hit by defensive end Derrik Jones jarred the ball loose from a Bulldog ballcarrier. Linebacker Kaleb Leonard scooped up the loose ball for a 42-yard touchdown return to close out the scoring at 19-0. Extra-point attempts failed on both of the final two scores. Leonard (Kaleb) was also involved in another play that proved significant. Back to punt on a fourth-and-nine situation early in the fourth quarter with the score still deadlocked at 0-0, Leonard mishandled a high snap, recovered the ball and dashed around left end for 18 yards and a first down. "It was a big play," said Cornelius, "because they would have had the ball inside the 20 and instead we got a first-and-ten near midfield." Leonard led the Tiger rushing game with 75 yards in 13 carries and caught one pass for 15. Werner grabbed three passes for 63 yards. El Dorado edged Nevada in total offense with 219 yards -- 163 on the ground, 56 passing -- to 196 -- 118 rushing, 78 passing. Nevada's starting tailback Steve Branstetter, still hobbled by an ankle sprain, sat out the entire game, but is expected to return next week against East Newton.

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