ELIZABETH --Perhaps the Elizabeth Forward football program has evolved to the point where it is no longer overwhelmed against most teams.
On Friday in a Big 7 Conference showdown with Trinity, however, the Warriors beat themselves.
story continues below
A number of costly EF penalties and small mistakes added up in a big way, helping Trinity run away with a 28-17 victory.
EF led most of the first half but was unable to score during the final 24 minutes.
"It's disappointing because we did make a lot of mistakes that we shouldn't have," EF coach Garry Cathell said. "But the good thing is, they are correctable mistakes."
The Warriors (3-1, 1-1) play at Ringgold Friday in a game that could go a long way toward determining a playoff spot.
If Cathell's squad is to qualify for the postseason, it will need to play better defensively than it did against Trinity.
The Hillers (2-2, 1-1) ran through and around EF's defense most of the game. Tailback Dan Miller ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Trinity possessed a significant advantage at the line of scrimmage.
"That's the darn thing about it," Cathell said. "They're a big team and they did a good job against us up front. We missed some tackles and didn't play very well on defense."
EF committed eight penalties, many in crucial situations.
The game, however, couldn't have started any better for the Warriors.
Cameron Dixon, who finished with 98 yards, rushed for 39 yards on the game's first play. Five plays later, Dixon ran for a 34-yard score on third-and- 27.
Dixon, however, only touched the ball four more times the rest of the game. He appeared to sustain a lower body injury late in the second quarter though he only missed minimal playing time.
"Dixon is Dixon," Cathell said. "He did some good things. We couldn't get him the ball in the second half as much as we wanted because we got off our game plan a little bit."
Trinity, which was embarrassed last week against Thomas Jefferson, immediately responded to EF's touchdown.
Miller finished off a nine-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
"It's hard to explain how embarrassed we were last week against TJ," Trinity coach Ed Dalton said. "We were embarrassed. Our fans were embarrassed. I like how we came out and responded tonight."
Neither defense had much success in the first half. Miller would later add another touchdown and EF's Josh Pomilio produced the play of the night, a 15-yard touchdown run that saw the junior break three tackles.
Trinity responded with a touchdown late in the first half that ultimately was the game-winning score.
On third-and-goal from the EF 7, Andrew Steratore threw a perfect fade pass to Alex Frey. The receiver beat Dixon for the touchdown.
"We showed a lot of character tonight," Dalton said. "We made some adjustments at halftime and they worked out really well."
The second half would have been on level footing if not for the play that twice burned EF. Although Trinity is primarily a running team, the Hillers twice executed a wide receiver screen to perfection.
In the second half, Frey caught a 22-yard pass on third down that set up one of Miller's touchdowns.
Facing a pivotal third down in the third quarter, Trinity went to the well again.
On third down at the EF 17, Steratore hit Frey again. He found a seam through the EF secondary and walked into the end zone.
"It was perfect," Dalton said. "Because we were running the ball so well, even if they were looking for that play, it becomes very difficult to stop."
Forced to throw in much of the fourth quarter, EF was out of its element and finally bowed for its first loss of the season.
Although Trinity won, Dalton came away impressed with the new and improved Warriors.
"What a good football team," he said. "It's amazing how much they have improved from last season. I am very, very impressed with everything I saw out of that team tonight. They just play so hard. There were a few times when we really crushed some of their kids, and I thought they were down for good. But that team just keeps getting up and fighting you. What a job Garry has done."
Despite the loss, there was a sense following the game that EF is legitimate, its 3-0 start not an aberration but rather a sign of things to come.
"I really like some of the things we did," Cathell said. "That was a good football team we played tonight. We just need to learn from our mistakes, keep working and get better. I think we'll be just fine."