ELKO — The beginning to Elko’s home football season at Warrior Field got off to a rocky start Friday night against Wooster, surviving self-caused struggles and coming away with a 20-0 victory over the Colts.
The flow of the game did not have as much to do with Wooster shutting down the Indians as did with Elko shooting its toes off one at a time until there were no more digits to aim at.
The Indians made numerous false starts defensively in the early going.
Despite giving up field position, Elko forced a stop but was unable to do anything with football and punted.
The Indians came up big on defense in the next series, namely senior defensive end Jeremiah Harris, who broke around the edge and dumped ball carriers for losses on consecutive plays.
Elko’s first score in front of the Indians’ faithful in the 2017 season was set up by a stellar punt return by junior Cooper Jones.
Facing the shadows of its own end zone, Wooster got off a great punt that was fielded by Jones near midfield.
He retreated and rounded right, advancing the ball to the Wooster 21.
It took the Indians one play to cash in.
Senior quarterback Ryan Wickersham kept the ball and shot up the gut, finishing the well-blocked play with a powerful drive across the goal line.
The extra point was missed but Elko took a 6-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
The Indians forced the Colts to punt on their next drive, setting up shop in great field position at the Wooster 28.
Elko advanced the ball the 13 with the legs of Jones, but the Indians began to do the backward dance.
A block in the back killed the drive and placed the Indians in a long-to-go situation.
Wickersham fired a picture-perfect pass across the middle that hit his receiver squarely in the hands, but the catch was not made and ball popped into the air for an easy interception.
The Indians got the ball right back just to give it away once again.
Senior linebacker Antawn Valtierra stripped a Wooster ball carrier clean and broke into the wide-open field for a surefire touchdown only to have six points come off the board.
Elko was called for a block in the back that did not take place in the same zip code as Valtierra.
The Indians made their way downfield to the Wooster 10 with carries from senior Gavin Byington and Jones, but the drive stalled with offensive false starts on multiple occasions and broken plays in the backfield.
Facing 4th-and-goal from the 16, Wickersham connected with Harris along the right side but he was dropped before the goal line.
Elko opened up a three-score lead on the field but not on the scoreboard.
Forcing a Wooster punt with less than a minute in the half, Jones fielded the kick along the left sideline on the run and reversed to the right on a great cut – going all the way to the house.
Another yellow flag was thrown for another block in the back, the Indians taking another touchdown away from themselves.
Solid first-down runs by Byington and Wickersham placed the Indians at the Wooster 20, clocking the ball with two seconds on the clock.
A heave to the end zone was picked off to end the half.
The Indians took their first possession of the third quarter deep into Wooster territory thanks to a burst from Wickersham.
He went up the middle and bounced the play to the outside, racing from the Elko 34 to the Wooster 9 for a 57-yard scamper.
The drive stalled, however, and Elko was left with a decision on fourth down.
Go for the conversion or kick the field goal?
The Tribe pulled some trickery when Jones kept the snap on the field goal attempt and found nothing but green to the right side for a walk-in TD.
The two-point conversion was another story, stopped before it started with a mishandled snap.
Elko took a 12-0 lead with 8:14 in the third period.
The defense did a better job of making stops while not committing as many mental mistakes and penalties while Wooster began to unravel with miscues, but the Indians – namely Jones – had another remarkable play wiped away.
Jones fielded another Wooster punt near the 50 and broke down the left side of the field for his should-be third touchdown of the ballgame.
Coming back, block in the back.
The penalty served as the tell-tale sign of three touchdowns eliminated by mental errors.
Wickersham avoided a sack in the backfield and connected with Harris with a big-gainer to the Wooster 21 from the Elko 48, but Elko went the wrong way once again.
The drive came to a close at the 35 but Byington made a great rollout kick and pinned the Colts inside their own 5.
Wickersham capped Elko’s next drive with a great throw and catch.
He unleashed a 3rd-and-13 from the Wooster 22 down the left side and Jones put on his dancing shoes – reeling in the pass and tapping the back corner of paydirt.
Junior QB Ronin Rowley went behind center and punched home the two-point conversion for a 20-0 lead with 10:33 remaining in the fourth.
Jones made a diving interception with 7:24 on the clock and Elko pitched a shutout for the second-consecutive week, improving to 2-0 in the Division 3A North with a 20-0 victory over Wooster.
The Indians will take to the road for two straight weeks, beginning with a 7 p.m. ballgame Friday in Sparks against the Railroaders.