Indians hold off pesky Laurel squad

The Indian River Indians varsity football team sure got a scare from the Laurel Bulldogs during their homecoming game — which was postponed to Oct. 29 due to a three-day downpour starting Oct. 25.

Football 11-2: Indian River fullback Cody Cooke plows through the Laurel defense during IR's homecoming on Monday, Oct. 29.Coastal Point • JOHN DENNY
Indian River fullback Cody Cooke plows through the Laurel defense during IR's homecoming on Monday, Oct. 29.

The Bulldogs put themselves behind the eight-ball early in the game by committing two turnovers on their first two drives of the game and allowed Indian River to rack up a 14-0 first quarter lead, but they stormed their way back in the second half to bring the score within three points, before ultimately falling 31-21.

Indians quarterback Nick Kmetz started the game off by capping a 10-play drive with the first of his two touchdown runs, this time from two yards out to take 7-0 lead.

Kmetz quickly got his offense back out on the field after intercepting a Lance Kelley pass intended for Josh Kosiorowski.

Indians running back Rob Disharoon capped a seven-play drive following Kmetz’s interception from three-yards out to give Indian River a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

Indians defensive end Trevor Abbott forced a Kelley fumble on their next possession, which linebacker Sean Lynch recovered at the Laurel 34-yard line, but Indian River wasn’t able to punch in to take a bigger lead.

Indian River worked the ball down to the Laurel 17-yard line and elected to go for the first down on fourth-and-12 as opposed to trying a 34-yard field goal, which is usually within kicker’s Luke Wingate’s range.

Kmetz’s pass to Danny Bokinsky fell incomplete in the end zone and ended up as one of three plays — two of which were fourth down plays — where Indian River failed to convert and ultimately failed to get any points.

Indian River faltered again on a fourth-and-five due to batted pass at the line of scrimmage, this time at the Laurel six-yard line with six minutes remaining in the first half which gave the Bulldogs plenty of time to mount a scoring drive.

Laurel countered by capping a nine-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run by Tyler West to cut the Indians lead to 14-7.

And as time wound down in the first half, Indian River elected to throw the ball inside the Laurel 10-yard line, but yielded no points due to an interception following a batted pass at the line of scrimmage.

Indians head coach Jim Bunting placed the blame on himself and his coaching staff for not making the correct decisions in those situations.

“The decisions we made as a coaching staff to put some personnel in or to call certain plays hurt us because once we got inside the 15[yard line] we seemed to get bogged down,” he said.

Thus far this season, Wingate has made field goals from 25 and 22 yards, plus a 27-yarder to give the Indians a 24-13 early fourth quarter lead over Laurel.

And heading into halftime down only seven points, Laurel felt rejuvenated.

“Yeah we could hear them at halftime hooting and hollering,” Bunting said. “They were going up against a really competitive team and were down only 14-7.

“I’d be excited too,” he added.

“We knew that they could make plays when they had to but to be down only seven points heading into halftime was huge,” Bulldogs head coach Ed Manlove said. “We knew that if we kept plugging away running the ball that that was the key.”

Indian River extended their lead to 21-7 following a five-yard touchdown reception by Zack Kmetz with 1:52 left in the second quarter. But Laurel gained some momentum midway through the second quarter and rekindled their success in the second half.

Blake Hare countered the Indians touchdown with one of his own to cut the lead to 20-13. The score could’ve been trimmed to six had Lynch not broke through the line to block the kick on the extra-point attempt.

Tyler West tallied 70 rushing yards and two touchdowns including a 26-yard run to cut the Indians lead to 24-21 following the two-point conversion on a pass from Kelley to David Albert.

But faced with almost an identical situation as in the first half, Kmetz engineered a final scoring drive which he scored a 10-yard touchdown with 1:45 to play in the game to take a 31-21 lead.

“I can’t say enough good things about Nick,” Manlove said. “He’s an outstanding player and an outstanding person.

“I’ll be pulling for him the rest of the way,” he added.

Bunting accepted responsibility for not doing things differently in the first half but also placed some of the blame on his defense for a few second half miscues which allowed Laurel to scrap their way back into the game.

Twice, Laurel was able to third and fourth and long situations with one of them resulting in a touchdown. Bunting mentioned that had the receiver been bumped coming off the line of scrimmage and then picked up by the defensive backs that the result may’ve been much different.

“We had two situations; a third-and-18 and a fourth-and-18 where we let a kid slip loose and make a play,” Bunting said. “And those things just can’t happen. We’re 7-1 and we’re a contender [for the Division II state championship], but contenders don’t play like this.

“Our defense is improving every week and our offense is as good as anybody’s but we’re still not concentrating for a full 48 minutes.

“This isn’t early in the season where you have time to iron things out,” Bunting added. “We have three weeks until the state tournament starts and you can’t make mistakes against the teams we’ll face in the postseason because if you do then you’re done. You don’t get any do-overs.”

Indian River travels to Seaford for its final regular season road game before hosting Sussex Central in the regular season finale. Kickoff begins at 7:30 p.m.