ZEPHYR — The Class A Division I No. 8 Zephyr Bulldogs ran their win streak to five games and set up a Top 10 showdown with No. 5 Jonesboro that will likely determine the District 10-A Division I championship thanks to Friday night’s 66-16 home victory over the Evant Elks in the league opener for both squads.
Zephyr (7-1, 1-0) scored on three of its first four snaps and opened a 22-0 advantage over Evant (4-4, 0-1) just 4:36 into the contest.
“That’s something we’ve been preaching all year because last year we weren’t much of a first-half team, we were more of a second-half team,” said Zephyr head coach Shannon Williams, who guided the Bulldogs to the state semifinals in 2015. “We’ve been preaching that we have to come out on fire and ready to win every play.”
The Bulldogs amassed 433 yards of total offense, with 403 coming in the first half as Zephyr owned a 60-16 advantage at the break — one missed two-point kick shy of ending the game at halftime.
Zephyr rushed for 297 yards as a team, led by Nicholas Moody’s 169 yards and two scores on 11 carries, while Bishop Norman needed just four carries to rack up 100 yards with three trips to the end zone. Through the air, Kason King completed all three of his pass attempts for 136 yards and three touchdowns — two to Devin Williams and one to John Paul Gowin, who also rushed for a score.
“It’s been fantastic, especially dealing with some injuries we’ve had,” Coach Williams said in regard to the diversity and number of weapons the Bulldogs have on offense. “To move Nicholas into the backfield, that boy is quick and he’s really stepped up big. Kason is throwing the ball great right now. John Paul Gowin is a sophomore guard with great hands and a lot of times he’s wide open and I don’t know why people don’t cover him because he catches a lot of passes. Devin is Devin; he’s going to catch the ball and block well and he’s a come a long way from last year. And our offensive line as a whole has blocked well, our percentages are going up and we’re real excited about what’s going on.”
Defensively, Zephyr allowed 126 yards — but just 6 yards rushing on 17 carries — with three takeaways, including a pair of interceptions. Williams, however, felt the Bulldogs could have performed better, and will need to next week against Jonesboro.
“I thought our defense was sloppy,” Coach Williams said. “We didn’t do very good in defensive practice on Tuesday or Wednesday. Sometimes you just expect things, because of where we’re at, the teams we beat and what we did last year, we expect to be good and not make the mistakes we’re making right now. We have to go back to the fundamentals on some of this stuff. We actually had some good tackles, but we missed some tackles, too. And this is two weeks in a row we’ve gotten beat on the pass.”
Zephyr received the opening pooch kick and after a 20-yard return to the Evant 30 by King, Norman followed with back-to-back 15-yard runs, the second putting the Bulldogs on the scoreboard with an 8-0 lead following Hayden Clark’s two-point kick just 38 seconds into the contest.
Evant punted on its fourth play from scrimmage to the Zephyr 14, where the Bulldogs responded with a one-play scoring drive as King connected with Gowin on a 66-yard catch and run. Clark’s kick boosted the lead to 16-0 with only 2:35 off the clock.
Another Evant punt followed four snaps later, with the Bulldogs taking possession at their own 32. On the next snap, King found Williams, who made a one-handed grab and raced down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown and 22-0 lead at the 5:24 mark of the first period.
The Elks’ third possession ended in a third consecutive punt, and the Bulldogs responded with a four-play, 45-yard march that culminated with a 19-yard touchdown run for Norman, which padded the cushion to 30-0 with 2:16 left in the opening stanza.
“We started good but we got a little satisfied after a little bit,” Coach Williams said. “We got up on them pretty quick and got satisfied and then we made a few mistakes and had some penalties we haven’t been making, just mental errors.”
Evant closed the gap to 30-8 on a 7-yard run by Wedo Martinez, who rushed for a team-high 27 yards and passed for 90 more.
The Bulldogs retaliated with four consecutive Moody carries, the final covering 10 yards for a touchdown that gave Zephyr a 36-8 lead with 8:57 left before halftime.
The Elks found the end zone for the second and final time on the ensuing possession as Martinez hooked up with Jeremiah Marwitz, who caught two passes for 48 yards, on a 13-yard scoring strike, trimming Zephyr’s lead to 36-16 at the 7:19 mark.
The final three touchdowns, however, belonged to the Bulldogs as a one-play, 51-yard drive resulted in Norman’s third touchdown and a 44-16 Zephyr edge just 18 seconds after the Elks scored.
A fumble on Evant’s next possession set up Zephyr at its own 34, and a 22-yard scoring toss from King to Williams capped the drive for a 52-16 Bulldog edge with 3:27 left before the half.
Norman picked off a pass to begin Zephyr’s final scoring drive of the opening half as a 21-yard Moody touchdown run with seven seconds left sent the Bulldogs to the locker room with a 60-16 halftime lead.
After the two teams traded turnovers to start the second half, Zephyr took over at the Evant 18 following a fourth-down stop. Two plays later, following a 13-yard carry by William Simpson, Gowin scored on a 5-yard run to enforce the 45-point mercy rule with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
Looking ahead to Jonesboro next week, the Bulldogs will attempt to knock off the Eagles for the first time since 2012 and clear the path toward a potential third consecutive district championship. Unbeaten Jonesboro defeated Blanket, 54-6, Friday night.
“I’m super excited about that matchup,” Coach Williams said. “That was one of the games I was really looking forward to, and I wish we could have them here because I’ve been at Zephyr four years and played them three times at Jonesboro. But it is what it is.
“Coach (Eddie) Gallegos does a great job with their kids. They’re always fired up and ready to play us and they play us well. But we’ve always played them early in the year, never late in the year, so hopefully we get our mistakes ironed out and go out next Friday night and play a mistake-free game.”