Evann Long was a birthday boy Friday and certainly was playing like it was going to be his kind of night for a fun-filled first quarter, anyway.
Things were going so well for Long that he recalled a conversation earlier in the day he had with Nixa teacher and stats keeper extraordinaire Ethan Lund regarding Eagles single-game receiving records.
“Coach Lund told me the records are 161 yards receiving and three touchdowns — that was my goal for the night,” Long said. “But my night kind of got cut short.”
A right ankle sprain suffered by Long in the second quarter ended his night and cut into Nixa’s offense mightily, as the Eagles were shut out over the final three quarters in a 25-14 loss to Republic.
The Eagles (0-2) yielded 23 unanswered points.
All this after Long broke free for a 76-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Reid Potts and pounced on a loose pigskin in the end zone for another Nixa touchdown.
The play-call and execution on Long’s touchdown catch couldn’t have been better.
“We knew the linebacker was blitzing, so we put a slant in right behind him,” Long said. “Reid put the pass where it had to be.”
Long capped a drive to end the first quarter by being in the right place at the right time in the end zone following a teammate’s fumble.
“I was blocking and saw the ball and dove to try to get it,” Long said.
The next instance in which he tried to block, his night ended. With Nixa up 14-8 in the second quarter, he was injured during a kickoff return.
“I was blocking on the kickoff when someone hit me from behind and my foot got caught under him and rolled under him,” said Long, who had a left foot injury during team camp earlier this summer. “It was very painful. I knew it wasn’t good.
“It’s pretty unfortunate,” he added. “I’ve got my whole family here. I didn’t catch a break. It’s pretty disappointing. Hopefully, I can come back in a week or two and get back to it.”
Nixa’s offense never recovered from the loss of Long. The Eagles turned the ball over three times on two interceptions and a fumble, with Republic turning two of the giveaways into touchdowns.
By halftime, the opportunistic Tigers (1-1) had suddenly grabbed 15-14 lead.
“We had a couple rough plays,” Nixa coach Rich Rehagen said. “Turnovers turn the momentum. They’re always big. We’ve got to try to protect the ball the best we can.
“(Potts) is a first-year starter and he had a great first quarter,” Rehagen aded. “He got a little experience last year. But it’s different when you’re ‘the guy.’ He’s only going to get better and better.”
Nixa didn’t march into red-zone territory again until its last drive of the night in the final seconds, after Republic had made it a two-possession ball game.
Many of Potts’ passes were on the run, as he spent little time in the pocket.
“Sometimes, it’s by design and sometimes it’s by his design,” Rehagen said. “I’m good either way. He has really good footwork and is very elusive. You’ve got a rush coming at you, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Nixa’s running game never got on track against a Republic defense that was burned for 300-plus rushing yards by Branson in Week One. Rehagen said the rush-defense was surely a point of emphasis by Republic in practices leading up to Friday.
“I promise you it was, it sure looked like it,” Rehagen said. “From what we saw on film, they gave up a lot of yards in Week One. They made a lot of (adjustments). I felt like that was a pretty solid defense from them we saw tonight.”
Nixa had 353 yards of total offense. Nearly half that yardage came on Long’s 76-yard score and the Eagles’ final drive against a prevent-defense by Republic.
Republic’s offense totaled 298 yards, with the split being 167 in the air and 131 on the ground. Quarterback Lucas Hayes was 15-of-26 passing.
“Assignment-wise, we knew where to go,” Nixa defensive back Clayton Uber said. “But they kept us guessing.”
Up 22-14 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers took more than seven minutes off the clock and all but clinched their win on a 25-yard field-goal by Marco Dejuan with 2:07 left.
“It was frustrating because we had been making stops,” said Uber, who had an interception earlier in the second half. “When they’re winding the clock down like that, our offense can’t (come back). It was very disappointing.”
“This will be tough on us for a few days,” said Long, who is due to have an X-ray on his injured ankle Monday. “Hopefully, we get over the loss and have a good week of practices.”
Republic 25, Nixa 14
Nixa 2 13 7 3 - 25
Republic 14 0 0 0 - 14
R - Safety
N - Long 78 pass from Potts (Anello kick)
N - Long fumble recovery in end zone (Anello kick)
R - Porter 26 pass from Hayes (kick blocked)
R - Hayes 8 run (Donjuan kick)
R - Hayes 8 run (Donjuan kick)
R - Donjuan 25 field goal