Eagles impose their will, defeat Holly – Fenton – Tri-County Times

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Holly — Times have changed within the Linden football program.

 For two decades the Eagles were known as a spread offense that looked to throw the ball first and run second. That offensive methodology worked well, as Linden at one time qualified for the state playoffs 16 straight seasons.

 But with time, one thing is inevitable, and that’s change. With first-year varsity football coach Chad Williams now at the helm, the methodology has changed. The Eagles are clearly a run-first team that would rather pound between the tackles and move forward for three extra yards after contact than try to finesse around a defender after catching a wide receiver screen. And, on defense they’d like to think the same thing — that they can out-physical any team in the Flint Metro League.

 On Friday night at Holly High School, the host Bronchos, who also are playing under a first-year head coach Billy Keenist Jr., played with the Eagles for about the first 30 minutes of the contest. However, as the game went on, aided by some Holly injuries during the contest, the Eagles were able to impose their will, and take control of the contest. By the time the game was over, the Eagles had earned a 29-13 road Flint Metro League Stripes Division victory.

 “We started out a little slow, 7-7 coming into the second half,” senior Bryce Eliuk said. “We bounced back. That’s what it’s all about, man. These guys grind. This is the hardest working team I know, the hardest team I’ve ever been apart of and I’m just so proud of everyone on this team. It’s incredible.”

 “Our effort (was the key),” fellow Linden senior Austin Alflen said. “They got tired and we kept going. We kept playing physical and kept it going. I’m so proud of this team. We are pretty locked in now. At first everything was different (with the new coaching staff), but the energy is here and we are hyped up and ready to play.”

 “That was the biggest thing, we wanted to impose our will and bring that physicality to Linden football,” Williams said. “A shout out to Holly. Coach Keenist has done an amazing job. That team isn’t your typical Holly team. I give them all the credit in the world. They gave us everything we could handle.  … The hard work the kids put in the offseason, the strength and conditioning — the work behind closed doors. The amount of time these kids put in then is coming to fruition and that can’t be understated. The only reason we were able to finish this game tonight was because of the work of these kids.”

 The 16-point difference was closer than most matchups between the two teams in the 21st century. In fact, this was the closest matchup since the Bronchos lost to Linden 30-27 in 2016. Since that 2016 matchup until last season’s contest, the Eagles had won each game by at least 17 points, and by an average of 27.6 points.

 “We had some guys drop and we had to move some pieces around and that’s frustrating because our kids battled their butts off,” Keenist Jr. said. “But when that clock says 000, it’s over and there’s nothing we can do about it. But I’m extremely proud of how our kids played. They fought hard against some tough adversity. I’m proud of the kids and proud of the coaches. We’ll learn from this and move forward.

 “I am aware what the history is here but we are looking to change it. We were looking to come up on the top end of this. Coming close is all and good, but sooner or later we have to win these games and that’s what we are striving to do.”

 The teams were tied at 7-all at the break, and it looked like the tight nature of the game was going to continue in the second half for a bit. Linden did drive 52 yards in nine plays on its first possession of the second half, scoring on Eliuk’s first of two one-yard TD runs in the contest. Michael Bush made the extra-point and the Eagles led 14-7 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.

 However, just two plays from scrimmage later, the Bronchos tied the game up on what was the biggest play of the game — an 87-yard TD pass from Boston Curtis to Antonio Simmons. Holly missed the extra-point and trailed just 14-13 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.

 From that point on, the Eagles started to take control. Two possessions later, Linden drove 62 yards in seven plays, scoring on Eliuk’s second one-yard TD plunge. He also ran in the two-point conversion, giving the Eagles a 22-13 lead with 11:09 left in regulation. Linden’s defense took over from there.

 Linden’s defense stopped Holly on a fourth-and-7 play from midfield when Montgomery Keener made a tackle for no gain on Curtis. Holly’s Matt Kazcmarek responded with a fumble recovery of a Linden fumble two plays later, but Linden’s defense forced a sack (by Caden Brown) and three incomplete passes on Holly’s next possession. Just two plays after Holly failed on a fourth-down try, the Eagles scored the game’s last TD on a 42-yard reception from Bush to Alflen.

 “We knew they were thinking we were going to run down the clock, so coach asked me what coverage they were in,” Alflen said. “I told him he came up, he’s in man. He asked me if I wanted it. I said I wanted it.”

 Linden scored the game’s first TD during a eight-play 69-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard TD run by Ethan Gomez. Linden led 7-0 with 5:26 left in the first quarter. Holly responded immediately, driving 73 yards in nine plays, scoring on a seven-yard TD run by Curtis. The game was tied with 30 seconds left in the first quarter and remained tied entering halftime.

 Linden had 214 rushing yards on 31 attempts. Bush had 65 yards while Gomez had 59. Eliuk had 32. Gomez also completed 5-of-10 passes for 96 yards. Gomez caught two passes for 24 yards.

 Holly’s ground game struggled against Linden’s defense, collecting just 43 rushing yards. Curtis did throw for 179 yards on 9-of-23 passing. Simmons caught six of those passes for 158 yards.

 Holly (2-2) travels to Fenton on Friday while Linden (3-1) hosts Flushing.


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