Just a couple of months ago, Academy New Church was 0-3 and winless in a season and a half. After a four-game winning streak, the Lions put themselves in position to win a share of the Independent Football League with a victory over Bristol at home. Although they fell short of that on Saturday afternoon, it has been a great turn-around for a proud program.
ANC led at halftime, but a strong second half performance by Bristol resulted in a 31-12 loss. Although the offense and defense had good moments, Bristol's team speed and talent at the skill positions eventually won out. A 19-point loss does not exactly scream "close game,' but it was a more than a respectable effort from a young Lions' team that look a year away from something great.
"We have gotten a lot better over the last few weeks,' ANC coach Ty Klippenstein said. "We have been a completely different team from the beginning of the season and we are playing well. I'm proud of the guys, they worked hard. Bristol is a really good football team with a lot of weapons and turnovers killed as a bit.'
The upset-minded Lions looked sharp early on. ANC jack-of-all-trades Shane McCurdy, who finished with 170 yards on 16 carries, gave his team an early lead when he took a handoff 55 yards to the house on the opening drive of the game. The Lions stopped Bristol once, but the visitors scored on the following offensive possession as Dante Simmons dashed 20 yards for a touchdown. McCurdy kicked a field goal right before halftime to give ANC a slim three-point lead, but the Simmons touchdown foreshadowed what was to come in the second half.
"We thought we did a pretty good job of slowing them up even though they have a lot of speed,' Klippenstein said. "We forced them to turn the ball over a couple times and made them make long drives down the field. Our turnovers just didn't come at the right time and they made us settle for field goals, which hurt us.'
The second stanza was filled with turnovers. Both Bristol and ANC lost two fumbles, but the former was able to capitalize a bit better. Bristol got the ball first after halftime and produced a long drive that resulted in a Dylan Shamwell touchdown plunge. ANC stayed true to form and fought right back, however, and recovered a fumble that it later turned into a game-tying field goal by McCurdy with a minute remaining in the third.
But even a minute was too much time to give a potent offense like Bristol's. After picking up a big gain on a 57-yard pass from Trevor Leone to Kyle Silvka-Fralin, Simmons eventually busted into the end zone from two yards out. Although it only gave Bristol a seven-point advantage, the precious momentum had shifted for the final time.
Bristol scored another touchdown on a screen pass that went for 41 yards less than a minute into the fourth quarter. After picking off the ANC quarterback in its own half, Bristol marched down the field and Simmons dashed in for another from 25 yards out.
It was an unfortunate end result for a team that fought hard and showed a lot of resiliency this season. However, the Lions still have one more game to get above .500 for the season and that in itself would be a great accomplishment after a nightmare start.
"We came in with nothing to lose, but we had a lot to gain because if we beat Bristol, not only would we have beaten a really good football team, but we would have also won a share of the league title,' Klippenstein said. "It didn't happen for us, but hopefully we will learn a thing of two from it. We are really young and only have two starters graduating. We'll build off this for next season.'
Bristol 6 0 13 12—31
Academy New Church 6 3 3 0—12
ANC: McCurdy 55 run (failed 2pt.)
B: Simmons 20 run (failed kick)
ANC: McCurdy 25 FG
B: Shamwell 1 run (failed kick)
ANC: McCurdy 20 FG
B: Simmons 2 run (kick good)
B: Wilson 41 pass from Leone (failed kick)
B: Simmons 25 run (failed kick)
First downs 14 12
Yards rushing 233 239
Yards passing 168 42
Total offense 401 281
Passing 14-9-4 13-3-9
Fumbles-lost 4-3 2-2
Penalties 8-70 3-25
Punts 1-40 2-35
Bristol: Simmons 29-190, 3 TDs; Leone 4-28, Shamwell 3-7, TD; Wilson 1-8
Academy New Church: McCurdy 16-170, TD; Weizer 11-72, Coyle 4-(-2), Hall 1-(-1)
Bristol: Leone 9-14, 168, TD, INT
Academy New Church: Coyle 3-13, 42, INT
Bristol: Simmons 1-10, Silvka-Fralin 2-60, Wilson 3-63, TD, Rigby 1-20, Weinkopff 1-7,
Academy New Church: McCurdy 1-12, Weizer 1-20, Earle 1-20