FAIRMONT — One step forward and two steps back was the way the game went for the Fairmont football team in the second half of its 30-20 home non-conference loss to Ashley on Monday.
The Golden Tornadoes chipped away in the second half against the Screaming Eagles, but four turnovers halted any chances they had at overtaking the lead.
“We showed that we could move the ball and put drives together, but we just couldn’t punch it in the end zone,” Fairmont coach Kevin Inman said. “When you work that hard to move the ball up against a good 4A team, it does take a little wind out of your sail. We had good opportunities to get back in the game, but we kind of relaxed a little bit as a team to let them score.”
Fairmont’s (1-1) flurry of four second-half turnovers started right from the second-half kickoff when Xavier Covington fumbled the ball inside the Fairmont 20 to give Ashley (2-1) a short field. Three plays later, Ashley running back Freddie Thames scored on a 16-yard touchdown scamper to put the Screaming Eagles up 23-6.
Thames proved to be the catalyst of the Ashley offense and finished with three touchdowns, two in the second half, and 209 yards rushing.
“We got some defensive linemen hurt and some defensive linemen that don’t have enough days in yet. We’ve definitely have to create a new line of scrimmage,” Inman said. “We did that, but not on a consistent basis.”
The second half brought out a new offense for Fairmont, a complete different look than in the first half that put up one touchdown and lost 20 yards rushing. With a pocket that was rarely clean for quarterback Derrick Arnette, the senior made plays with his legs to keep drives going and connected with receiver Jordan Waters five times.
Arnette rushed for 74 yards in the second half and had five rushes of over 15 yards.
“We got an athlete that can keep his eyes downfield and knows when to tuck and run it and get what he can,” Inman said. “That’s a big pro for you to have.”
After Ashley went up by 16, the Golden Tornadoes cut into the lead when Arnette and Waters connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 90-yard drive.
Fairmont turned the ball over on its next drive deep in its own territory, and its defense stood tall to back the Screaming Eagles up for a long field goal try. Fairmont linebacker Sidney McKiethan started a 10-point swing when he blocked the field goal try and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 23-20 to end the third quarter.
Ashley, led by the running of Thames, responded in two minutes into the fourth quarter on an eight-yard run for a score, bringing the score to its final.
From there, Fairmont struggled to get drives going, and never crossed into Ashley territory. Both drives end ended with Arnette fumbles.
Arnette finished the game passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns and three turnovers — one interception and two fumbles. His first touchdown came on Fairmont’s second drive of the game on a 82-yard pass for a touchdown to Javon Morris to make it 7-6 Ashley early. Morris and Arnette had three completions for 171 yards in the first half.
Fairmont turns to conference play on Friday as it travels to West Bladen. That game marks the beginning of a new season for the Golden Tornadoes, starting Three Rivers Conference play and more players set to join or return to the roster. Going up against the run game of the Screaming Eagles did give Fairmont a peak of what’s to come.
“They stuck mainly to running today, and that’s what we are going to see the next few weeks, especially with the Wing-T and run-heavy sets,” Inman said. “Today gave us a look at what we need to do to get better.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.