WALL — Adjustments made all the difference for the Wall football team Friday during the Eagles' season-opening 29-26 win over Harding County.
A varied inside-out running attack made up of quarterback Enoch Cuny, running back Bridger Amiotte and wide-outs Zach Hout and Tack Tines kept Harding County off balance for much of the game. With the Ranchers stuck in a guessing game, the Eagles were able to control the line of scrimmage and turn a 20-14 halftime advantage into a 29-20 lead early in the fourth quarter when Tines broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown run.
"We wanted to mix it up," Amiotte said after the Eagles knocked off Harding County, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in Class 9B. "We wanted to pound the ball inside then up the middle."
Amiotte was quick to credit the play of the Eagles' offensive line for its play in the trenches against a Harding County team known for its toughness.
We might not be the biggest, but we're farm strong," Amiotte said.
"That wins the game for us," Wall coach Lex Heathershaw said. "We had some drives that were four, five minutes long. That's a credit to our o-line."
Harding County brought a bruising running attack that put the Ranchers in control early on. Running back Sam Adams was in the middle of much of the action as Harding County answered a Wall score on the game.
The Eagles went up 6-0 less than two minutes in when Amiotte scored on a 30-yard scamper. The Ranchers came right back with a 9-play, 72-yard drive that Adams highlighted with runs of 20 and 14 yards before Robert Hansen scored on a 4-yard run. Adams came right back in Harding County's next possession and stretched to haul in a pass from quarterback Camden Hett for a 49-yard TD pass-and-catch.
Up 12-6, the Ranchers were driving when a holding penalty negated a long run by Adams. Then Wall forced a fumble to stop the drive.
A safety on a high snap to Adams, who was punting from just outside of the Ranchers' end zone, resulted in a safety that cut the Ranchers lead to 12-8. The Eagles built on the bad snap by turning the ensuing kickoff when Cuny scored on a 10-yard run and put Wall up 14-12. Harding County went on another long drive — eight plays covering 63 yards — to retake the lead 20-14 before halftime.
A slight adjustment along the defensive line led to Wall keeping Adams in check much of the second half.
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"We shifted our defensive tackle inside a shade," Amiotte said, "and that freed our linebackers up."
Adams, who was eating up yards in big chunks over the first two quarters, couldn't find any free space to get moving up field.
"He's an absolute animal running the football," Heathershaw said of the Harding County senior. "We talked to our guys about wrapping up and getting all nine guys to the ball."
Wall retook the lead on its first drive of the second half when Cuny again got free on a quarterback keeper, this time scoring from 14 yards out.
Harding County turned the ball over on downs — once inside Wall's 20-yard line and once inside its 20-yard line — and saw the Eagles build their lead to 29-20 when Tines broke free of tacklers along the left sidelines and worked his way back across the field on a 56-yard TD run.
"It was the kind of game turnovers and not getting conversions when we needed then," Rancher coach Jay Wammen said. "Whenvever it seemed like we had momentum, we hurt ourselves with a penalty."
Wall kept Harding County off the scoreboard through the third quarter and well into the fourth. Then, with under two minutes to play, the Eagles turned the ball over at their 28-yard line. The Ranchers capitalized on the next play when Hett hit Zack Anders with a 28-yard scoring strike to pull the Ranchers within 29-26.
Harding County lined up for an onside kick, but Adams tapped the top of the ball, which traveled only a yard from the kicking tee. Wall took possession and ran the clock out to end the game.
"These seniors are a good group of guys," Heathershaw said. "They've prepared really well during preseason. We've got some things to work on on, but I'm really proud of our guys."
The Eagles (1-0) face another No. 1-ranked team next week when top-ranked Sully Buttes visits Wall on Friday. Harding County has a bye next week.