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|OCS coach leads All-Star Team to silver medal in Australia|
The Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri Echidnas football team defeated the Texas and Nevada Sharks 20–0 Friday night in Australia's Runaway Bay Stadium to win the silver medal game of the 21st edition of the Down Under Bowl.
The team is coached by OCS head football coach Steven Fitzhugh and opened the tournament with a heartbreaking 25-22 double overtime loss last week.
The second time around, the defensive effort from the Echidnas was too much for Nevada to overcome.
"I don't think they respected us after the California game and the fact that they were undefeated so we came out and put it to them early and our team responded well the whole game" Fitzhugh said after the game. "We wanted to prove that we were as good a team as we knew we were and the Sharks just got in our way. They had bad mouthed us and told us how bad they were going to beat us since last Friday in Los Angeles and I think the guys had had enough and wanted to prove to them how good we were."
The Echidnas started the game off with a turnover when Shaquille Conner (Franklin High School) threw an interception on the first drive of the game at Echidnas' own 19-yard-line. That is when the Sharks realized that they were going to be in for a rough battle as the defense held and Conner redeemed himself by intercepting a pass of his own in the end zone to thwart the Shark drive. The turnover would be the first of five interceptions the Echidnas would cause on the night.
The Echidnas opened the scoring with four minutes remaining in the first quarter on a 13-yard-touchdown run by John Bloodshaw(Block High School). The run capped a seven- play, 80-yard-drive that started after Conners' interception. The PAT was missed when the snap was fumbled but the Echidnas took a lead they would never give up 6-0.
The first quarter ended with that 6-0 lead for the Echidnas as they racked up 74 total yards of offense to the Sharks' two in the first quarter. "We set the tone early and played with high intensity the rest of the night" said Fitzhugh.
Early in the second quarter the Echidnas defense forced a second turnover, this time scoring themselves as corner R.J. Roberts (Pineville High School) intercepted a Shark pass on the 50-yard-lineTen seconds and 50 yards later — after running from sideline to sideline — he scored for a 12-0 lead, which remained after another PAT miss.
Roberts ended the night with another interception for a total of two in the game which would earn him co-MVP of the game.
The rest of the half proved to be a defensive struggle for both teams and the Echidnas held on to their 12-0 lead going into halftime.
The third quarter was nothing but a defensive quarter for both teams as the teams returned punts to each other. The big punt was by Ryan Thurber(Fort Osage High School, Missouri) from the Echidnas as he pinned the Sharks back at their own 9-yard-line late in the quarter. After the Echidnas defense pushed them back to the 4-yard-line, the Sharks punt only traveled six yards and the Echidnas set up shop on the 10-yard-line.
The Echidnas came up empty, turning the ball over on downs, but one of the biggest defensive plays of the game occurred two plays after the turnover. The Shark quarterback went back to pass and a blitzing Jacob Boles(Ouachita Christian School) hit him in the back popping the ball loose for a safety. The Echidnas opened up a 14-0 lead two plays into the final quarter. Boles ended the night with 10 tackles, the safety and a hurry.
After a series by each team netted nothing, the Sharks took over the ball at their own 25-yard-line with 6:30 to play in the game. Not being able to do much all night on the stingy Echidnas defense, they went to a power running game. However, on the 14th play of the drive, the other co-MVP of the game stepped up with a huge play for the Echidnas. Defensive end Gary Battle(McClure North High School, St. Louis, Mo.) took an interception 98 yards to score, setting a record for the longest interception in Down-under Bowl History. Battle also had an earlier interception on a similar play but fell after a six-yard return with nothing but green turf in front of him.
On the night the defensive leaders for the Echidnas were Jake Rose (St. Joseph Christian, Missouri) and Boles leading in tackles with 11 and 10 respectively with Thurber having 9. Heath Pruitt of Delhi Charter was third on the team with seven tackles.
Offensive leaders for the Echidnas were Bloodsaw with 44 yards rushing on 13 carries, Roberts with 47 yards receiving on one reception and Conner completing five of 11 passes for 78 yards with one interception.