August 26, 2012 1:48:51 AM
STEENS - For every positive step they took, there was a self-inflicted mistake to halt the progress.
The Immanuel Christian School Rams faced a tough challenge in their district contest against Leake Academy on Friday: the Rebels had 26 players who were either juniors or seniors, more than the total number of players on the Rams roster. The Rams needed steady play from their running backs and receivers and big plays to counter the Rebs' potent rushing attack.
Six fumbles -- four of which were lost -- stymied the Rams' cause in a 50-12 blowout loss that dropped the Rams to 0-2 on the season.
A trio of Rams' fumbles were caused by bad snaps, but the three others came at critical times from the Rams' top players. Quarterback K.C. Cunningham fumbled at midfield after the Rams' defense recovered a Rebels' fumble. Running back Joshua Dantzler fumbled at midfield in the second quarter, a turnover which proved costly as the Rebels turned it into a 23-0 lead just four plays later.
The miscues overshadowed an otherwise stellar performance from the Rams' top skill players. Cunningham completed 6-of-10 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while Dantzler had 53 yards on 13 carries. He added two receptions for 41 yards.
"We came out playing hard, everybody," Rams coach Greg Watkins said. "We catch a break with the fumble after losing a break with our first fumble at about the 50. Then they drive down and we get one from them. It seemed like any time we got some momentum going, we'd have a turnover, a bad snap, missed assignment."
Already working with a small roster and limited experience, the Rams lost one of their playmakers in Jaelin Bankhead to an ankle sprain in the first half. The Rams were already short a key player on offense with lineman Luke Hudson out with a concussion. Watkins said Bankhead will miss at least two weeks.
But there were plenty of positives, particularly in the passing game. After a high snap resulted in a 17-yard loss, Cunningham hit a streaking Dearius Young up the seam for a 43-yard touchdown. Cunningham later hit Justin Tate for a 74-yard touchdown. And in the first quarter, with the Rams backed up to their own 5, Cunningham found Dantzler for a 37-yard pass.
"K.C. did a good job of finding receivers because we had success running up the middle," Watkins said.
The Rams' success in the run game, particularly in the zone option, was a positive sign, Dantzler said.
"That's great," he said. "K.C.'s doing a great job on the option - keying on the ends - and everyone is blocking well. I think we'll get better at it and we'll score off it. But, we've all got to get better at blocking. I think in two or three weeks, we'll have it down pat.
The Rebels (1-1) were led by Taylor Nazary, who had 171 rushing yards on 11 carries. He had two scores.