(Nov. 11, 2016) The Stephen Decatur football team’s 43-6 victory over the Snow Hill Eagles last Friday in Berlin was extra special. The Seahawks earned their first win of the season in their final game of the year – and it was Senior Night.

The seniors were honored and recognized before the competition, and Decatur Coach Stan Griffin said the players had mixed emotions – both happy and sad.

“It was the seniors’ last game. They were pumped up and emotional,” he said. “I could see they were choked up a little bit in the locker room.”

Griffin said all of the Seahawks looked forward to the match and had a productive week of practices leading up to game night.

Snow Hill and Decatur were looking for their first win, both 0-9 going into last Friday’s competition.

Before the game, Griffin said the Decatur coaching staff and players discussed the finality of it all.

“There’s no tomorrow unlike the other nine games. There’s no next week. It’s now or never,” he told them. “Snow Hill believes they have a chance to beat us. It’s not a gimme. To win, we’ve got to make it happen.”

Senior Eddie Zonnak rushed 11 yards to score first for Decatur, a little over three minutes into the game. Junior John Ford’s extra-point kick was good to give Decatur a 7-0 lead.

Snow Hill’s DJ Thornton returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the touchdown, but the extra point attempt was blocked.

Shortly after, Decatur regained the momentum as Zonnak ran the ball 65 yards into the endzone. Senior Joe Marowski held the ball for Ford to kick the extra point, but he picked it up and ran into the endzone instead to boost Decatur’s advantage to 15-6.

Zonnak scored again with 1:59 on the clock, and after one quarter the Seahawks led 22-6.

During the second quarter, Decatur junior quarterback Dominic Klebe’s touchdown, and another Ford kick, made it 29-6. Klebe recovered a Snow Hill fumble on the ensuing kickoff on the 32-yard line, and senior Avonte Purnell extended Decatur’s advantage with 21 seconds remaining in the first half.

At halftime the Seahawks were on top 36-6, but it wouldn’t end there.

Keeping up the onslaught, senior Alan Means ran the ball eight yards for a touchdown with 8:30 left in the third quarter. With Ford’s extra point, Decatur pulled ahead 43-6.

“It’s good to go out with a win for the seniors, and the rest of the kids, hopefully the win will leave a good taste in their mouth,” Griffin said. “For the seniors to win the last game they play, it’s a nice touch for them to be able to get that.”

Zonnak led the team with three touchdowns. He rushed 12 times, racking up 105 yards. Purnell recorded 79 yards on nine rushes. Means ran eight times, tallying 36 yards. Klebe and senior Wayne Morse earned 52 yards each on two rushes apiece.

Junior Collin Eichelberger led the Decatur defense with five tackles. Juniors Nate McIntyre and Justin Manganiello made four each.

“We played pretty well. For the most part, we did what we wanted to,” Griffin said. “I felt like the defense played well – we held them to six points. We scored 43 points. It’s nice to do that. It’s fun to be in a different perspective on the sideline [and] it was nice to end the season on a high note.”

Overall, Griffin said, it was a good way to end the season, as everyone got into the game and contributed.

Unfortunately, Griffin said, the rest of the season didn’t go as well as the coaching staff and the players had hoped.

Bob Knox, head coach of the team for three decades, decided to take a leave of absence for the 2016 season to be with family as his grandson, Eli, is battling a rare brain tumor. Griffin, normally the squad’s defensive coordinator, stepped in as the interim head coach.

“It was difficult from the start of the season. We had to fight through and overcome adversity, some of it much larger than football,” he said.

Griffin said he saw growth in many of his players, including some who did things he didn’t know they were capable of.

“Being a head coach is always challenging,” he said. “I took over 10 days in, with a system already in place. The defense part of it was mine, but the offense – we didn’t want to start over from the beginning. Our offense this year was a hybrid [of the new and old system].”

The team will lose 16 players to graduation, most of whom were main contributors.

Teaching in the high school now, Griffin said it makes it easier to recruit players for next season being in the same building as the student-athletes. There are also some talented athletes who will move up from the JV program.

To be successful next year, Griffin said the players must train during the offseason.

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