CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - -- The 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Highlanders claimed a hard-fought 20-14 victory over the Headquarters and Support Battalion Spartans at the Paige Field House football field, Sept. 8.
The Highlanders opened the game with a dynamic kickoff return play when wide receiver Charles Peoples returned the opening kickoff, taking a 6-0 lead in the first 15 seconds of the game after missing the extra point.
On the Spartans’ second possession, they marched downfield to their own 30-yardline where the quarterback, Brandon Bond, launched a 60-yard bomb that found wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the red zone, bringing them to first-and-goal. Bond was able to scramble his way into the end zone on the next play, giving the Spartans a 7-6 lead after the extra point.
The Highlanders quickly answered the Spartans touchdown with one of their own, moving the ball downfield with a series of short gains before the Highlanders quarterback, Josh Bulla, connected with Peoples in the end zone for his second touchdown. The Highlanders took a 12-7 lead after failing a two-point conversion.
The Spartans next possession resulted in a poorly executed punt play when the ball was snapped over the punter’s head and rolled down to the Highlanders’ 7-yard line.
The Highlanders now had excellent field position to extend their lead to make it a two-possession game, and that is exactly what they did. The offense was penalized five yards for a false start, but the Highlanders fullback, Bennie Netters, ran it in from the 12-yard line, extending their lead, 20-7.
The remainder of the first half would be a vicious match of the defenses forcing turnovers and making goalline stands, leaving the majority of the second quarter scoreless.
The Spartans received the kickoff to start the second half, looking to make it a one possession game. The team picked up where they left off on offense as they started moving the ball on the ground again with their running back, Desmond Baldwin. The Spartans went back to their ground game but came up short of the end zone again when they fumbled the ball on a fourth-and-2 attempt.
Running out of time, the Spartans defense forced a three-and-out.
Following the defensive stand, the Spartans found their explosive run game. Ultimately, the short gains on the ground opened up the play-action pass, allowing Bond to find wide receiver Chris Green in the red-zone, bringing up first-and-goal.
The Spartans were stopped again by the Highlanders’ ruthless goalline defense.
They tried to get their ground-game moving but the Spartans stuffed the run forcing a three-and-out.
The Spartans continued the ground-and-pound to march downfield when Baldwin exploded through the defense on a 35-yard run resulting in a touchdown.
The Spartans, now trailing by only one touchdown, found themselves in a dogfight with a new enemy, the clock.
The Spartans capitalized on a series of penalties against the Highlanders’ offense, stopping the run and forcing the Highlanders to put the ball in the air on third and 25. The pocket collapsed around Bulla, pressuring him to make an early pass that was intercepted by Spartans’ middle linebacker Thaddaeus Haney.
With a new opportunity in their hands and 1:30 to play in the game, the Spartans offense took the field, unable to make any progress as they were stopped again by a turnover on downs.
The Highlanders only needed a first down to secure the victory, and after failing to convert on their first three attempts, they made it happen on fourth and 5, picking up the first down and letting the clock run out to claim their 20-14 win. Each team started the game undefeated, and the Highlanders will go into week three with a season record of 2-0. The Spartans are 1-1.
“This was a tough loss, but we will bounce back,” said Baldwin. “I love this sport, and the Marine Corps is probably the last place I’ll ever be afforded the opportunity to put pads on again. We have a lot of work to do but I’m proud to say we fought to the end.”