EMORY, Va. – Emory & Henry football coach Curt Newsome entered preseason practice looking for a more productive running game.
That search continues.
The Wasps managed just 76 yards rushing in Saturday’s 31-24 overtime loss to the North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Newsome said. “I thought we would be able to open up some things on offense by having an effective running game. This was a disappointing start.”
It was also a demoralizing finish for E&H.
The Wasps forced a 24-24 tie with a 10-play, 88-yard drive that culminated with a 12-yard pass to 6-foot-6 senior Derrick Yates with 38 seconds left in regulation.
But the game ended in the first overtime when do-everything Wesleyan linebacker Antonio Johnson intercepted a pass in the end zone on a 3rd and goal situation from the 7-yard line.
Those heroics by Johnson came after the Battling Bishops opened the extra session with a 25-yard scoring pass.
Saturday marked the first start for E&H quarterback Colin Ellis. The 5-10 junior from West Jefferson, North Carolina, guided the Wasps to a 17-12 halftime lead by throwing for 215 yards, including a 5-yard TD pass to 6-2 junior Max Yates.
Wesleyan was handicapped by four turnovers and a missed extra point in the first two quarters.
“The first part of the game was really exciting,” Ellis said. “Our offensive line blocked well and we made some plays. Then we kind of stalled out in the third quarter.”
So just how bad was the quarter for E&H?
“It was absolutely awful,” Newsome said. “We had way too many three and outs.”
While the Wasps were sputtering, the Battling Bishops crafted three balanced scoring drives to grab a 24-17 lead with 11:28 left in the game when first-year quarterback Donielle Totten found 5-7 junior Kevin Alford alone in the back of the end zone.
That’s when Derrick Yates simply took over the game on the final E&H drive in regulation. Operating against single-coverage from a much smaller cornerback, Yates made five receptions to help the Wasps advance from their own 12-yard line.
It was a textbook sequence for receiving fundamentals, as Yates continually caught the ball with his hands at the highest point while befuddling Wesleyan defenders with other tricks.
“They just called my number and I had to step up,” Yates said. “Colin has one heck of an arm and he made some nice throws.”
Ellis said he was confident lofting the ball to Yates.
“Anytime you’ve got a guy like Derrick out there it’s makes the quarterback’s job a lot easier,” Ellis said.
The final pass from Ellis in overtime was intended for 6-7 senior Elijah Vieira but a Wesleyan defender was able to step in front of the big tight end and deflect the ball. Johnson actually caught the ball while on his back.
“I was hoping to get the ball on that play,” Derrick Yates said. “We had some guys open, but we weren’t able to execute.”
Derrick Yates finished with nine catches for 137 yards while steady 5-11 junior Gunner Griffith (4 receptions, 68 yards) and Max Yates (three receptions, 36 yards) were also effective.
Ellis, who spent his freshman year on the scout team and attempted just four passes last season, completed 19 of his 32 passes for 269 yards with two interceptions.
After moving from receiver to quarterback as a junior in high school, Ellis led the state of North Carolina with 3,400 regular season passing yards as a senior and finished his prep career with nearly 7,000 yards through the air.
“I was little nervous coming in today, but I was able to get settled in and have fun,” Ellis said. “I would like to have that last play back.”
Junior Hunter Taylor, who missed Saturday’s game due to a violation of team rules, is expected to return at quarterback for E&H in the next game on Sept. 21 at ODAC favorite Randolph-Macon.
“It’s tough to put anybody in that situation, but Colin did some good things,” Newsome said.
Freshman T.J. Tester led E&H with 56 yards rushing on 16 carries. University of Richmond transfer Grayson Overstreet, who played with Tester at Staunton River High School, was held to negative five yards on two carries as Wesleyan defenders swarmed to the 6-2 freshman on both carries.
Sophomore linebacker Ivan Phillips recorded a team-high 12 tackles for E&H while junior safety Daniel Flowe collected seven stops along with a forced fumble, interception and blocked kick.
The Battling Bishops generated 507 total yards. The 5-11 Totten overcame three interceptions to pass for 365 yards and four scores.
“Wesleyan is a senior team with some good athletes and they played like it,” Newsome said.
We got a bunch of turnovers, but we gave up too many big plays and never really stopped them.”
Newsome said the next step for the Wasps is all about the basics.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” he said. “The first half of our schedule is rough and we’ve got to get rolling.”