The familiar peripheral activities of Friday night football could be found everywhere around Locust Grove High last night. There were tables selling snowcones and barbecue. There was a vendor selling school apparel offering hats, visors, shirts and jackets.
There were cheerleaders throwing balled-up t-shirts into the home stands.
It was Locust Grove's first occasion to play at home for the first-year program, and by all accounts, the evening was a success on and off the field. A significant crowd packed the stands and the Wildcats hung on for a 20-13 victory over Drew, another first-year program from Clayton County.
Locust Grove didn't seal the victory until Ryan Brooks intercepted his second pass of the night on the Wildcats' own 21-yard line with 1:03 left in the game. From there, quarterback Slater Eckert knelt twice to run out the clock.
"It was a good feeling," Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield said. "These kids have been working hard, and it's good to see them rewarded. That's what is the best part of it all. You saw the atmosphere. These people want to win, so that was good to get rewarded for all the hard work they've been doing."
In a night of firsts, Locust Grove (2-0) unveiled its flexbone offense to the home crowd with impressive success. Moving methodically, the Wildcats amassed 207 rushing yards, led by Chris Marie (17 carries, 90 yards) and Ray Dotson (6 carries, 62 yards). It is an all-hands-on-deck system, as six players got carries.
But the Wildcats also mixed in the pass effectively. Eckert was 7-for-10 passing for 143 yards. Four of his completions went for over 25 yards. Brooks had five receptions for 103 yards.
And the Wildcats struck quickly. On its first possession, Locust Grove moved 70 yards in eight plays, punctuated by a 35-yard touchdown run by Dotson. Locust Grove led 6-0 after a missed extra point.
"We're methodical, disciplined," Satterfield said. "Trying to make the other team make a mistake. That's the flexbone. That's why all the (military) academies have been running it for years."
As for any first-year team, there were as many signs of inexperience as there were signs of promise for both teams. Locust Grove had 350 totals yards of offense, but also had two fumbles, one of which Drew defensive lineman Jarnor Jones returned for a touchdown to tie the game at 6, and several penalties.
"I thought we moved the ball well, but we had too many mistakes," Satterfield said.
Same could be said for Drew. The Titans struggled offensively for the first three quarters, plagued by several dropped passes and penalties.
But they came alive in the fourth quarter, especially on a 13-play, 80-yard drive to cut Locust Grove's lead down to a touchdown. Quarterback Barry Mayes was 5-for-6 for 55 yards on the drive, connecting with wideout Briant Burke on an 11-yard touchdown.
But it was too little too late.
"They might have felt the pressure," Drew assistant head coach James Davis said. "With time winding down, things start speeding up. Just time ran out on us."