BLOOMFIELD – The first 12 minutes on Friday night was a stalemate.
The Davis County High School football team was not only trading punches with a reigning district champion, but getting the better of the exchanges at times through one quarter of a game with 2A, District 6 championship implications.
Then, in an instant, the air went out of the balloon. Senior running back Gavin McCall, a catalyst for the physical response of the Mustangs on Friday in a battle for the outright district lead with Williamsburg, was down on the turf suffering with pain radiating from his lower leg.
McCall would leave the field, seemingly taking the hopes of the Mustangs with him. Williamsburg scored three touchdowns in the second quarter following the departure of McCall, ultimately pulling away in the second half to clinch a 41-8 win over Davis County taking sole possession of first place in 2A, District 6 clinching home field advantage through at least the first two rounds of the postseason and potentially home field advantage in every postseason game leading up to the state semifinals.
"It definitely hurt both our defense and our offense losing Gavin," Davis County senior quarterback and linebacker Carson Maeder said. "He's a great running back. He's hard to tackle. He's like a little bowling ball. His nickname is stubby because he's so hard to tackle. He's a great part and one of the main threats of our offense. We knew how important a factor he was going to be in our attack."
McCall gained 48 yards on four carries in the first quarter, nearly breaking free on a 22-yard run while bouncing off Williamsburg players during each run. Davis County, however, could not take advantage of consecutive possessions in Raider territory as an interception by Jake Weber and a pass break up on fourth down prevented the Mustangs from putting the first points on the board.
"I don't think it's all put on one player being in the game or not for us. It has more to do with different execution issues," Davis County head football coach Scott Murdock said. "If we had Gavin in there the whole game, it might have helped somewhat, but overall our ability to execute and get things done is ultimately what shut us down."
Even before McCall was injured, Williamsburg was putting together the first sustained drive of the game converting four times on third down including a third-and-18 pass from Cade Ritchie to Weber to keep the drive alive with McCall in the game. The Raiders would score on third-and-goal as Gable Dayton finished the long drive with a three-yard touchdown run, the first of three touchdowns for Dayton on the ground against the Mustangs.
"Hats off to Williamsburg. They're a good team that does a lot of things we haven't seen before," Murdock said. "They played press-man coverage, they jam and they pull. They do things we haven't had a lot of experience with."
Without McCall, Davis County managed to move the chains only twice in the second quarter, once coming on a scramble by Maeder that eventually resulted in a desperation heave to Hoyt Dzwoniarski for 18 yards. Tayden Bish would catch the next pass for 15 yards, but fumbled at the end of the play giving Williamsburg the ball back leading to a 43-yard touchdown pass from Ritchie to Madox Doehrmann, giving the Raiders a 14-0 lead.
Dayton finished the first half with a 32-yard touchdown run, opening a 21-0 halftime lead for the Raiders. Davis County responded without McCall to open the second half, scoring in less than three minutes on the opening possession of the third quarter as the up-tempo Mustangs polished off a nine-play drive with receptions for an eight-yard touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion by Easton White, cutting the Williamsburg lead to 21-8.
"We'd been running kind of a base scheme in the first half offensively so we could shore up some our blocks," Murdock said. "Williamsburg started to shed those blocks, so we started to get more into a down scheme with Cohen Piper hitting the holes. He's a good kid, he's tough and he has great field vision. We were able to pick apart their defense a little bit from there with the passing game and exploited their cover-zero coverage."
Davis County forced a Williamsburg punt, giving the Mustangs a chance to get even closer with a second straight touchdown drive. Instead, the Mustangs were stopped four times in the second half on fourth down, setting up short fields that allowed Williamsburg to take advantage with three short touchdown drives salting away the district-clinching win.
"We had some holding calls and several things that just didn't go our way," Murdock said. "Ultimately, we just didn't have the big-play capability that Williamsburg did. Williamsburg did and they responded."
Williamsburg (4-3, 4-0) will wrap up the regular season against Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont next Friday. Davis County (4-3, 3-1) will host Mid-Prairie in a battle for second place in the district with the winner clinching a home playoff game the following week.
The good news for Mustangs players and fans is that McCall would finish Friday night on his feet. In fact, McCall returned to the Davis County sideline with his foot wrapped up, but walking even with a limp without any other assistance.
"The kids are all linked. They might as well be brothers," Murdock said. "When one of them goes down, everyone is injured and everyone is hurt. Kaden Culbertson actually found Gavin's mouthpiece a couple plays after he came off and made sure to let everyone on our sideline know to get it back to Gavin. It just shows the commodore these kids have."