BERNE – South Adams was flying high early Friday night, when it took the field in brand-new gold jerseys and immediately took the lead with a 24-yard touchdown pass from James Arnold to Nick Miller.
And the Starfires (3-0) were in the mood to celebrate again toward the end of a 21-3 victory over Bluffton (2-1), after the sophomore quarterback jump-started the offense with a few huge passes that resulted in two third-quarter touchdowns.
It was that middle part where they had to show some grit.
Aside from the opening drive, which took less than two minutes, South Adams and Bluffton both had trouble finishing drives in the first half.
An apparent touchdown to South Adams' Drew Stutzman was called back due to a penalty (a would-by pick-six would also be called off in the third quarter), and Alex Gorney's interception of Hayden Nern was nullified when the Starfires fumbled on the very next play.
“That's really, really hard, especially with a young team,” South Adams coach Grant Moser said. “We start nine sophomores, so I mean when that happens, it's easy for kids that age to hang their heads and want to pout. But we preach all the time, you have to move on to the next play, and our kids do a great job of that.”
Perhaps most deflating, linebacker and running back Nic Stuber went down with an apparent knee injury.
“He hurt his knee last year, too, and was out for three or four weeks,” Moser said, noting that Stuber had accounted for 200 yards of offense the week before. “He's the heartbeat of our team, as far as offense and defense. He's one of our most athletic players and one of our leaders, so we hope to get him back as soon as we can.”
But the Starfires seemed to regain their mojo on offense in the third. Grant Besser gained 51 yards on a pass from Arnold and was brought down at the 3-yard line. The quarterback carried it two yards into the end zone on the next play.
With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, South Adams' Austin Gorney recovered a Bluffton fumble, and Arnold took advantage of the turnover to throw two bombs, a 32-yard pass to Christian Summersett and a 25-yard heave to Besser. Summersett finished the drive with a 2-yard carry into the end zone to put the Starfires ahead 21-3.
“I'm really proud of him, too, he did a great job,” Moser said of Arnold.
Stutzman iced the game with a final interception – a play that, this time, wasn't called back for a penalty. Everett Johnson, who scored five touchdowns for Bluffton in the first two games of the season, rushed for 108 yards, but couldn't break through the Starfires defense when his team got down to the red zone. Still, he fared better than the rest of the Bluffton rushing game: each of the four other players with at least one run attempt finished the game with negative yardage.
“We talk about it all the time, we want to be a bend, don't break defense,” Moser said. “You're going to give up plays here and there, you're going to give up 10, 15 yards runs here and there, you're going to give up some quick slants, some dumps, but don't give up the big play. We did a great job of that tonight.”
It was a performance that showed why the team had earned those gold jerseys.
“I ordered them back in February ... I think my wife might have knew about it, and my brother and our athletic director, and that was about as far as it went as far as knowing.” Moser said. “Went in at pregame, and I was talking a little bit and pulled out the jersey. It was the easiest pregame speech of my life. They were ready to go from that point on.”