ALLEN — Despite a resilient second half, Dickinson ultimately went the way of every other opponent to set foot inside Allen’s Eagle Stadium.
The Gators’ 300-mile drive north culminated in a 38-24 loss to state juggernaut Allen on Friday’s in the first-ever meeting between the two.
Unbeaten in its home stadium, Allen did its damage through a myriad of big gains through the air and on the ground, totaling 376 yards of offense and leading the Gators by as many as 21 points to post a second straight victory over a state-ranked opponent to begin the season.
“Anytime you win, it builds confidence. Anytime you beat ranked opponents, it shows our players that it’s all about how we prepare and how we get ready for games,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “There are still areas to clean up — we’ve got to eliminate big plays on defense and turnovers on offense — but at the same time there are great things we’re doing on both sides of the ball.”
Gambill lauded the explosiveness of Allen’s pass rush and big-play potential, both of which helped the Eagles settle into a three-score advantage after trading touchdowns with the Gators for the first 14 minutes of game time.
Knotted at 14-14 early in the second quarter, Allen rattled off 21 unanswered points with a flurry of quick strikes on offense. Senior Raylen Sharpe went deep to senior Darrion Sherfield for a 70-yard touchdown to nudge Allen in front, and junior Jordan Johnson doubled the Eagles’ advantage with a 68-yard touchdown run with 4:57 left in the half.
Coming out of the break, Allen junior Bryson Green hauled in a 48-yard pass from Sharpe before bagging a 3-yard touchdown from the quarterback to stake Allen to a 35-14 lead just 51 seconds into the second half.
Sharpe’s connection with Green and his twin brother, junior Blaine Green, sparked a passing attack where Allen challenged Dickinson deep plenty on Friday. Blaine Green caught two touchdown passes in the first quarter, finishing with four catches for 45 yards while Bryson fittingly enough caught four balls for 45 yards. Sherfield added 88 yards on two receptions, with Sharpe’s second start behind center netting 201 yards and a pick on 16-of-30 attempts.
“Our connection has gotten really tight,” Sharpe said. “Over the summer, we’d always throw around and that has really helped. Our connection was a little off today, but that’ll sometimes happen. We’ll have to fix it in practice and come back stronger next week.”
The run game also got a boost from senior Celdon Manning (103 yards) and Johnson (86).
Despite trailing early in the third quarter, 35-14, the Gators made a game of it over the back half of the frame with 10 unanswered points. Senior kicker Guillero Garcia Rodriguez converted a 37-yard field goal and just a few minutes later, following an interception by senior Savien Arnett, the Gators crept to within two scores after a 6-yard touchdown run by junior Ausaru Allah.
Dickinson did so despite having to call on backup junior quarterback Marlon Allen, who relieved starter Mike Welch midway through the third quarter. Dickinson head coach John Snelson said that Welch’s exit stemmed from a back injury sustained in the first half.
The Eagles had their own injury scare behind center, with Sharpe momentarily exiting in the third quarter after a Dickinson sack had trainers tending to the quarterback's ankle upon being helped off the field. The signal-caller ultimately didn't miss a series.
Like Welch, Allen was at the mercy of an aggressive Eagle pass rush that had both Gator signal-callers on the move plenty.
“We’ve got tough kids but made too many mistakes against a quality opponent,” Snelson said. “Allen’s not going to beat themselves and we just made too many mistakes with turnovers and foolish penalties.”
At the heart of Allen’s effort up front was senior Elijah Fisher, who accrued four sacks through the first three quarters on Friday in just his second-ever start at defensive end after making the move from tight end in the offseason.
“When I first started at [defensive end], my coach told me to just play,” Fisher said. “He said, ‘You’re a football. Just go play.’ After I got out of the whole mindset of trying to do everything perfect and tried things my way while still sticking with alignment, assignment, execution and effort, it was a clear path for me.”
Although Allen’s defense settled in as the game progressed, as the Gators fired a shot across the bow just 19 seconds into the ballgame, dialing up the tried-and-true quarterback-receiver connection of Welch and senior Darryl Harris. The Gators’ lengthy wideout had on a step on the Allen secondary on the first play from scrimmage and hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass from Welch for an immediate 7-0 lead.
“When you come into a place like this, you have to come out swinging and that’s what we wanted to do,” Snelson said. “We got off to a good start, but need to be able to sustain it.”
Although Welch, who passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, went back to the Harris well a bunch throughout the evening, with Dickinson’s top pass catcher totaling five receptions for 112 yards, junior tight end Jathan Caldwell had some success of his own. The Gators caught the Allen defense napping twice in coverage on Caldwell early in the second quarter, which resulted in the tight end hauling in a 26-yard touchdown pass down the seam to knot the count at 14-14 with 11:24 left in the first half.
The remainder of the frame, however, belonged to the Eagles.