GREENVILLE – A blocked punt for a touchdown set an early tone in Greenville’s season opener against Dorman Friday. On a night when the Red Raiders’ offense was unusually methodical, Mazeo Bennett still managed to look like one of the best receivers in the country. Greenville’s veteran defense had five different players collect sacks.
But that early tone set by the special teams was music to the Raiders’ ears all night. Greenville dominated the battle of field position to help it open the season with a 34-21 victory, avenging a big loss at Dorman in last year’s opener. While the Cavaliers did have one 56-yard kick return that set them up at the Raiders’ 40-yard line, Dorman’s average starting field position was its own 23.
“We always talk about special teams being a third of the game and if you don’t take it seriously in practice, it’s going to come back to haunt you,” Greenville coach Greg Porter said. “I’m proud of the fact they take it seriously. Hopefully with this type of win and experience, they’ll use this as momentum as we move forward.”
Lang Steck opened the game with a kickoff to the one-yard line and a gang of Red Raiders quickly converged on the returner at the Dorman 14-yard line. After the Cavaliers went three-and-out, Greenville’s Daylon Johnson didn’t out maneuver any blocker to get to Dorman’s punt. He just shoved his man back enough to get a hand up at the right time. Rather than celebrate his great blocked punt, Johnson pursued the ball like a hawk and fell on it in the end zone to give the Raiders a lead less than three minutes into the game.
“I give credit for that play to training with Coach (Amos) Lamb, our strength coach,” said Johnson, who unfortunately finished the game on crutches after suffering an injury. “I don’t know what was really going through my mind on the play. I was just like a kid looking for the ball. You’ve got to go get it.”
Greenville’s first offensive drive stalled at the Dorman 44, but Thomas Guerrero had a perfect punt that the Raiders downed at the one-yard line. Greenville’s next two drives started at the Dorman 39 and the Raiders’ 45. The second of those two drives ended when Bennett took a routine screen pass, juked away from three defenders seemingly all at the same time, and raced 27 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 14-0.
Dorman’s Sammy Brannon bobbled the ensuing kickoff around the four-yard line, but recovered and went 56 yards untouched until Steck made the touchdown-saving tackle. As it turns out, it saved a touchdown for about 15 seconds. On the next play, Brannon Teamer made a great catch on a deep throw by David Sorenson for a 40-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-6.
A personal foul after the touchdown caused Dorman to kickoff from its own 25, and Bennett returned that kick 28 yards to the Greenville 43.
Five plays later, another Bryson Drummond screen pass turned into a touchdown again. This time, it was a 33-yarder by Si Teasley that gave the Raiders a 21-6 lead at the half.
The Raiders (1-0) opened the second half with its backup quarterback, Zack Pickelsimer, on the field. He directed a “grown man” drive in which Greenville had nine plays, all on the ground, capped by Pickelsimer keeping for a 10-yard score to push the lead to 28-6.
The Cavaliers appeared to be on the verge of having their fate sealed when they faced third-and-17 late in the third quarter. However, Keenan Arcega-Whiteside came up with a 71-yard reception. On the next play, Sorenson kept for a four-yard touchdown. He then ran for two to cut the lead in half.
Greenville suffered penalties on five of its next six snaps to sink its ensuing drive. Dorman then came up with a “grown man” drive of its own. Ten of the 11 plays were runs, including three successful keepers on third down by Sorenson. The last of those was a two-yard touchdown run that sliced Greenville’s lead to 28-21 with 9:16 left.
“We gave up a little run, but that’s expected. Dorman’s a great team,” Porter said.
With all the momentum on the Cavs’ side, Bennett proved that the “big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games” adage is still true this season. On third-and-13, Bennett hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass to give the Raiders a little more breathing room at 34-21 with 6:01 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Steck delivered one of his six touchbacks in the game and Greenville’s defense was never seriously threatened the rest of the way.
“I can’t say enough about Lang Steck. He’s been able to kick it in the end zone, which is something he couldn’t do last year,” Porter said. “To see him be able to improve like he has is major for us and for his confidence. To make a team have to go 80 yards? That’s tremendous.”
Bennett finished with five catches for 133 yards despite not touching the ball until midway through the second quarter. That suited him just fine though.
“We made the decision three months ago that we were going to come out and try to smack them in the mouth, running the ball,” Bennett said. “As a player, I want my running backs to do that. At the end of the day, the more they squeeze down on them, it’s just going to create more opportunities outside.
“Last year, we got all the way to the fourth round but we didn’t know how to just win the game. It doesn’t take going deep every play or taking shots. That’s our biggest motto – ‘just win the game.’ “
Drummond finished with 209 yards on 13-of-21 with three touchdowns and one interception. Jamarion Jefferies had 10 tackles, including a sack, to lead Greenville’s defense, while Jayden Wilson-Abrams had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Sorenson completed 9-of-22 passes for 166 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also led Dorman (0–1) in rushing with 53 yards on 16 carries, including two touchdowns.