Benefield: Homecoming magic sparks St. Helena

By KERRY BENEFIELD
PRESS DEMOCRAT SPORTS COLUMNIST

ST. HELENAMaybe it was the crown they gave Davon Browne at half time that changed the momentum of the game.

Through two quarters of football in the NCL I1 battle between St. Helena and Middletown, it was a ground war. Grinding, smashmouth football. Not a dash of sparkle in sight.

(www.shutterstock.com)

(www.shutterstock.com)

So maybe it was that crown No.# 3 got when he was named Homecoming King in front of the home crowd at half time. Maybe the dash of glamor infused a little pizazz in the Saints, who at the half were locked in a 7-7 tie with their fierce rivals.

“It was a pretty pimpin’ crown,” Browne, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, said.

While his teammates were in the locker room going over the plan for the second half and trying to find an answer to Middletown’s suffocating defense, Browne was strutting on the red carpet, soaking up love from the packed stands.

As good as that was, Browne’s sterling second half was better. He came up with a key fumble recovery, punt return and fourth- quarter catch that seemed to land at must-have moments for the Saints.

“Coming out and making the fans proud is the best thing I could do,” he said.

The seesaw game didn’t turn fully the Saints way until deep into the third quarter when Middletown fumbled the ball and Browne jumped on it.

To start the fourth quarter, Mr. Everything quarterback Jack Preston connected with senior wide receiver Jesus Hernandez for a 44- yard pickup. And then it was Browne’s turn again, to grab a pass and take it to the six- yard line.

The Saints inched forward until workhorse Jahaiver Otero ran it in one yard for the TD.

That was the story all night, Preston marching the Saints downfield and Otero grinding out the short runs for six. Otero, a junior, had all three Saints touchdowns on runs of four, two and one yards.

From the start it was a clash of styles. Middletown entered the contest with the toughest defense in the Empire, giving up an average of 13 points a game. On the other side of the ball, the Saints averaged 33 points on offense.

Something had to give.

The Saints got the points they needed and turned up the heat on their defense to keep the Mustangs away from the end zone.

The win keeps the Saints undefeated overall and in league and makesputs them the team to beat for the league crown. The loss drops Middletown to 2-1 in league.

Middletown made a valiant go of it all night and kept the pressure on the Saints until the end.

The Mustangs forced a fumble with two minutes remaining and were on the march, until St. Helena junior Mark Martin snagged an interception to end the drive and seal the win.

Middletown coach Bill Foltmer said this week that whoever came out on top Friday would have an inside track for the league crown.

Workhorse Mustang Anthonie Guzman did his best to make sure that was Middletown. He had 18 carries for 89 yards and one touchdown and seemed to be behind every key play the Mustangs could muster. Time and time again, Middletown turned to the senior leader for key yardage.

He delivered, but it was not enough. Preston and his crew were too much Friday night.

Preston was jubilant after the game. Playoff jubilant.

“Most of the seniors have lost to Middletown three years in a row,” Preston said. “I think this means more than anything else we could have asked for. The sky’s the limit.”

The sky is the limit on Preston’s numbers on the night.

The senior was 10 of 13 passing for 189 yards. The speedy QB ran for another 114 yards. When the Saints needed a play, Preston came up with it, scrambling for key yards when he wasn’t connecting with receivers.

Preston, who didn’t realize his pal Browne was named homecoming king at halftime, gave him a thumping hug after the game. He called the Saints not a team, but a family.

So if Browne’s now wearing a crown, I guess that makes all the Saints royalty.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 536-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and on Twitter @benefield.