Szklennik’s 98-yard ‘Pick Six’ leads Cougars over Culpeper, 39-6
WIth a big night during a 39-6 win over Culpeper on Friday, David Eldridge set Kettle Run records with 387 receiving yards and six touchdown catches this season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
After early losses to Tuscarora and Sherando, the Kettle Run Cougars stood 1-2 with an uncertain future. Was this to be a rebuilding year perhaps, after their mercurial rise to the upper echelon of Division 3?
Fast forward to mid-October. Four straight wins later, the Cougars have already stamped their ticket to the regional playoffs as they continue to remind Fauquier County football fans why their program is special, and maybe state championship-worthy.
On Friday, the Cougars (5-2) scored four exciting touchdowns in a 39-6 home win over Culpeper (4-4). Evan Szklennik returned an interception a school-record 98 yards for a touchdown and David Eldridge caught touchdown passes of eight and 79 yards.
Austin Lewis also had a 75-yard touchdown run, De Jackson scored on a 1-yard run, and backup quarterback Bailey Branham added a final TD on a 12-yard TD run with nine seconds left.
One week after an emotional 18-15 double overtime win over Fauquier, the Cougars labored a bit, but fell back on their superb defense and big playmakers.
“My biggest fear is we’d come out flat and we did,” said coach Jeff Lloyd. “In the second half we played pretty good. We had 62 yards in the first half and finished with over 320.”
While Kettle Run’s passing game hasn’t been dominant, Eldridge has developed into a game-breaking receiver whose rise into stardom continues unchecked -- and Szklennik has morped into Spiderman on defense.
Both guys inked their names in the Cougar history books Friday as Szklennik picked off his 15th career pass (topping D.J. Whitney’s 14), and turned it into a record breaking 98-yard return.
Eldridge caught four passes for 98 yards and now has a KRHS season record 387 receiving yards and career mark of 680 receiving yards. His six TD receptions this year is another school record.
Eldridge’s first TD of eight yards gave KRHS a 6-0 lead. It almost looked like a mistake play.
“We ran the play wrong,” said Eldridge, who made a marvelous instinctive catch on a Denzel Champion ball thrown with another Cougar receiver in the vicinity.
“David looked covered. He threw to a very small window,” Lloyd said about Champion’s throw.
Eldridge’s second TD was straightforward as he went long on a Champion bomb, beating two Blue Devils to the end zone easily for a 79-yard score that was the second longest pass play in school history.
“The line did its job giving Denzel time to throw. I just ran until I got to the end zone,” said Eldridge.
Szklennik also stood front and center in the spotlight. Although he has 15 career picks, including one in each of the Cougars' last four games, Friday’s 98-yarder was his first career TD off a pick. “I usually get tunnel vision and don’t return them well,” said Szklennik.
With the Cougars leading 6-0 he intercepted Hunter Crim’s deep throw by anticipating well and moving to the right sideline to haul it in. Szklennik motored up the sideline a little bit, cut to midfield, navigated some traffic near the Culpeper 40, then sailed in for the score. “There were two guys there, I cut left and got out of jail,” said Szklennik.
An apparent penalty appeared to nullify the score. Then it was announced the penalty was on Culpeper, making it a TD.
The Blue Devils, who lost to Liberty 35-6 on Monday and were playing their second game in five days, got back in the game on an amazing 62-yard TD run by Daekwon Fisher with no time left in the half. The play began with two seconds left and Culpeper in possession on first down on its own 38.
Fisher burst through a small gap on the left side, cut across the field to the right sideline and eluded several Cougar defenders to score near the right pylon.
“We relaxed. It looked like we forgot to tackle,” said Lloyd. “I didn’t expect them to take a knee. I thought they’d throw. That kid got through the second level and outran everybody. Three kids had an opportunity to get him on the ground and didn’t do it.”
As Lloyd watched in disbelief, the play allowed Culpeper to go into the half only down 12-6. “I did not want to go ballistic. You lose teams like that,” he said of his decision not to rip into his team at halftime.
The Cougars came out and rolled in the second half, scoring four TDs, led by Austin Lewis’s 75-yard run.
“It was the biggest hole I’ve ever seen,” said Lewis, whose long ramble essentially put the game away, giving the Cougars a 19-6 lead.
Under first year coach Ken Wakefield, Culpeper has improved significantly from its 1-9 season in 2012.
On Friday, the Blue Devils could not pass against the Cougars, but did show occasional spunk behind running backs Fisher, Bruce Mosley, Marlin Glascoe and Michael Elliott.
“We have a lot of respect for their secondary. They do a great job at man-to-man coverage. And they give multiple looks in their linebacker corps,” said Wakefield.
Wakefield felt the teams were fairly even, but the game boiled down to key plays that Kettle Run made.
“Big plays made the difference,” he said.
Lloyd saw it that way too, and he didn't mind.
While Kettle Run has been a little erratic on offense, no one has been able to stop Eldridge. Now Lewis is busting big runs.
"We can keep masking (offensive inconsistency) as long as we have big plays," he said.
And Szklennik and company keep stopping the other team.
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