Holtville Elmore County football

(Carmen Rodgers) Elmore County High School’s Payton Stephenson was brought down by a pack of Holtville High School Bulldogs during Friday night’s game.

Despite having 18 players quarantined due to COVID-19 protocols, the Holtville Bulldogs started Class 5A, Region 4 play with a convincing win on Friday night.

Holtville beat Elmore County, 36-14, at home on Friday night. The Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 in 4-5A) had to plug multiple players into positions they’ve never played before, and even saw some players get their first varsity action of their career in the game.

That didn’t stop the Bulldogs from jumping out to a quick 16-0 lead in the first quarter. And it didn’t stop the Bulldogs from ending the game on a 14-0 run after Elmore County (0-3, 0-1) cut the lead to eight points right before the first half ended.

“Our guys played their butts off,” Holtville head coach Jason Franklin said. “We have 18 guys quarantined right now so we had to revamp everything this week. When I say we filled holes in the boat, we had to plug a bunch of them. It was almost a whole brand new football team, and I’m just so proud of how our guys responded. They really, really battled and it showed in the second half.”

Holtville wasted no time putting points on the board. Running back Shawn Brackett returned the opening kickoff into Elmore County territory, then caught a 23-yard pass from quarterback Tanner Potts to set up the Bulldogs near the goal line.

Potts took it himself for a seven-yard run on the next play to put Holtville up, 7-0.

On Elmore County’s first offensive drive, the Panthers were forced to a three-and-out. On the punt attempt, the long snapper snapped the ball over the punter’s head, who ran back and jumped on it in the end zone for a safety that put Holtville up, 9-0.

On the next Elmore County offensive possession, quarterback Payton Stephenson tried to roll out to his right and pass the ball, but Holtville cornerback Dalton Yarroch jumped the route and returned the interception 55 yards to the house and put Holtville up, 16-0.

“Dalton played really well and that was a huge play he had,” Franklin said. “We had a few special teams plays too, some punts and returns, where we flipped the field. We had some moonshots tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys tonight.”

Elmore County didn’t shy away, however. On the next drive, Stephenson hit Jabari Murphy for a 44-yard gain, then ran the ball five consecutive plays to punch in a 1-yard touchdown run. After the two-point conversion, Holtville’s lead was down to 16-8.

The one-score lead was quickly pushed out to two when Holtville scored on its next offensive play. John Williamson returned the kickoff all the way to EC’s 28-yard line, then Potts hit Erik Adkins for a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Holtville’s lead was 22-8 after the missed PAT.

“We’ve been preaching that we had to win on special teams and we did. I thought we did a really good job of winning on special teams and not having miscues over there,” Franklin said.

Stephenson wasn’t done and broke off a 58-yard run on the next drive, then score on a 4-yard run to cut the lead to 22-14.

Stephenson finished his night 4 for 11 passing for 121 yards, and he rushed 22 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

That score stayed until the fourth quarter. Elmore County, which had the ball on a 4th-and-2 around its own 15-yard line, went for it instead of punting. The play was stuffed, and Holtville got the ball in the red zone.

Three plays later, Brackett punched in a 1-yard touchdown run. Brackett finished his night with 14 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. He caught four passes

for 15 yards.

Elmore County fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, and Holtville put the game away with a Potts 3-yard shovel pass touchdown to Williamson that put the Bulldogs up, 36-14.

“Anytime you can get 1-0 instead of 0-1, it’s a lot better,” Franklin said. “You now have something to look forward to the next week and something to keep working towards. Now if you’re 0-1, you’re behind the eight ball.”

Holtville will travel to Beauregard next Friday night. Elmore County will host Clay Central.