Thursday, September 8, 2016

Game Day, Part I:
Earlham drops season opener 28-18

I'd photographed Earlham College's football team on the road twice in my ongoing tour of Indiana small college football schools (a project I've referred to and tagged "Game Day"), and both times the results were not pretty. In fact, entering the 2016 season, the Quakers were hoping to snap a two-season-long victory drought; they'd last won 21-20 at Anderson on Oct. 26, 2013.

I'd hope the Quakers would put up a good fight when I finally made it to Darrell Beane Stadium on the school's campus in Richmond, Ind., last Saturday, and I'm happy to report they did pretty well.

I'd never heard of Southern Virginia before deciding to visit Earlham for its season opener, and I was interested in having a school I hadn't photographed before as the opponent. Southern Virginia is in Buena Vista, Va., in the Blue Ridge Mountains. After finding the town of 6,650 people on a map, I would have described it as being more in the west central part of the state than southern, but that's just me.

The oddity of Saturday's opener was that both schools had 0-10 records last year, and Earlham had weathered two consecutive winless seasons. Southern Virginia scored on its first possession of the game, Lakeith Hopkins' runs of 34 and 11 yards being the key plays on the drive before quarterback Shawn Honeycutt put the ball into the end zone from the 1 yard line. After an Earlham punt, the Knights put together a 55-yard drive that ended with a missed field goal.

Two interceptions and a fumble cut short Earlham drives in the second quarter, including one near the end of the half. The second interception came on the Quakers' longest drive of the game, when they had gotten to the Knights' 9-yard-line. But earlier, after the fumble on Earlham 35-yard-line, Southern Virginia needed only five plays to get into the end zone. The touchdown, giving the Knights a 14-0 lead, came on a 3-yard run by Keenan Galeai, and that's the way the half ended.

Southern Virginia opened the second half with its second longest drive -- 53 yards on 11 plays -- reaching the Earlham 1-yard line in doing so. The Knights were poised to take a three-touchdown lead, but on fourth and goal from the 1, Honeycutt tried another quarterback keeper. This time, Earlham linebacker Lajay Kelly stripped the ball from Honeycutt before the QB could cross the goal line. Kelly then picked up the loose ball and ran the length of the field for the TD, putting his team on the board. The extra point was blocked, leaving the score 14-6.

The rest of the third quarter was uneventful, except that Southern Virginia missed on another field goal attempt, but the fourth quarter would see both schools score twice.

Seth Hanson rushed for an 11-yard touchdown early in the quarter to widen Southern Virginia's lead to 21-8, and two possessions later, Earlham scored again. On consecutive plays, Quarterback Treylon Anderson and receiver Marcaus Cooper connected on passes of 30 and 10 yards, the latter netting a touchdown (another extra point failed) to reduce the Earlham deficit to 21-12.

Two possession later, Southern Virginia answered, this time on a 25-yard run by Michael Frye, boosting the visitors' lead to 28-14. The Quakers responded on their next possession, and again it happened via an Anderson to Cooper pass -- this time from 37 yards out. A two-point conversion attempt failed, so the score was 28-18. The Quakers succeeded on an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, recovering the ball on the Southern Virginia 39-yard line. Anderson and Cooper connected one more time, a 29-yard pass play taking them to the 10-yard line. But the drive fizzled after a rush for no gain and three incomplete passes in Cooper's direction.

Leading off the post is a shot I got standing behind the end zone in the third quarter when Earlham was on offense, but deep in its own territory. On a third-and-20 play, the Knights defense swarmed quarterback Wes Hundley and sacked him for a 5-yard loss. I was fortunate to capture this moment of the sack because, looking at my image stream from the play, the pile became a blur of bodies and no faces in the frame immediately after this one.

Earlham was the penultimate stop on my Game Day tour of Indiana small colleges that field football teams. It is very possible I'll get to the last one, Anderson University, this season. So stay tuned; you may see the end yet***. The "tour" unofficially began in 2009 at Franklin College with a thrilling 30-29 come-from-behind win by the host school over Trine University, which was nationally ranked at the time. I qualified the tour's origin in Franklin as "unofficial" because at that time, I had not yet decided to make a project of this. I attended the Franklin-Trine game simply to get some experience photographing football. Game Day became a project two years later, when I had an opportunity to photograph a Wabash College game, saw the colorful pregame tailgating and the excited throngs who packed the grandstands there. The light bulb went on.

*** In April of this year, Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion announced that it would be adding football to its athletic program, beginning with the 2018 season. So I may add one more to the tour in two years.

Photo geek stuff: I made a late decision to use my Canon 6D (instead of my Canon 7D) to force myself to shoot fewer frames each play and reduce the volume of images I had to deal with in post-processing. I thought that was the most painless way to accomplish it. The 6D's burst feature is much slower than the 7D (probably half as fast), so theoretically, I get half as many shots on each play. I started the game with my Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens, but after quick glimpses of the shots from the first two plays, I saw there were incredible rich blue skies in the pictures. I checked the lens and saw that I had left a polarizing filter on from a previous shoot. I also then noticed that my settings (using shutter priority) were giving me extraordinarily small apertures because the filter was forcing the auto exposure mechanism to add light. I felt this was a sign to use my better quality (and much heavier) Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens and 1.4X extender.

More photo geek stuff: So I did what I've never done before while shooting a game -- I left the field and went to my car to switch lenses. While I did, I missed a long run by a Knights running back ... as well as the first touchdown of the game. A few years ago, I'm not sure I would have taken that gamble (and just settled for what I could get), and I know I would have been angry with myself. But on Saturday, I shook it off as something I needed to accept ... and that I had to move on. I'm glad I made the decision. The quality of images using the 70-200 was superior, I felt, than those I shot at Trine University last year, when I opted for the lighter Tamron. I didn't start to physically feel the effect of the weighty Canon lens until late in the third quarter, and then fatigue resulted in a couple of embarrassing miscues (more on that later).

Even more photo geek stuff: I also did something Saturday I've never done before -- I used automatic ISO so I could put the camera on manual shooting mode to lock in the shutter at 1/800 and f/stop at f/4. I decided to try auto ISO because the field was getting frequent variable lighting from fleeting sun and large cloud formations. I thought auto ISO would be the way to deal with that. The results were OK, but not entirely successful. On the finished images, I often had exposure ranges (due to changing ISO) of as much as four stops -- on the same play. Luckily, I shot in RAW format, and Camera Raw allowed me to salvage all but a very small handful of images that were exceedingly overexposed. In all honesty, a few of the way overexposed images were the result of my inadvertent nudging of the shutter speed or f/stop wheels that allowed the excessive exposure. Alas, the fatigue factor.

Stay with me ... last paragraph of photo geek stuff: As for the experiment to use the 6D instead of the 7D to end up with fewer images -- I used about 1.25 memory cards (of 32GB each), which I'd say is less than what I normally use for a game, However, all of my campus landscape shots were on those cards as well, so ... I think I did very well. However ... during burst mode, the 6D's buffer delay kicked in sooner than the 7D's, so I missed a dozen or so good play endings as a result. I'll also mention that I set my camera shoot mode on AI Servo, a continuous auto focus setting that ostensibly is supposed help photographers maintain focus on a moving subject. The trick to succeed with it, however, is keeping your subject on the focal point in your viewfinder as you move. If the subject slips off the focal point, you're out of luck. I have to say that on Saturday, continuous focus let me down more often than I remember.

For a complete gallery of images from my game shoot, visit my site at

Next post: A look at the Earlham College campus in landscape photos. 

Above and next three below: Earlham quarterback Treylon Anderson completed 10 of 24 passes for 150 yards, but he also had three of his passes intercepted. He felt pressure from the Southern Virginia defense all afternoon, and one time, it wasn't the opponent creating chaos; it was the snap from center.  

Above and below: Passes deflected by Southern Virginia defenders cost Earlham receivers Eric Bryant (above) and Elijah Bilal (below) important gains on at least two plays before the final drive.

Above: Grant Bowersock (45) and Torrie Mayberry (obscured, left) work hard to bring down Southern Virginia running back Michael Frye. 

Above: Game officials made a good call -- and Earlham avoided giving up another touchdown -- in the first quarter when they ruled that Southern Virginia receiver Shay Reid had stepped out of bounds when he caught this 25-yard pass from Shawn Honeycutt on the Knights' longest drive in the game. Reid went untouched into the end zone after the catch. Several plays after the out-of-bounds ruling, Southern Virginia settled for a field goal attempt, which was unsuccessful. 

Above and next five below. Since I've never captured a play that went the length of the field after a turnover, I decided to use all of my best pictures from the sequence. Southern Virginia had reached the 1-yard line in the third quarter, and on a third and goal play (above), quarterback Shawn Honeycutt attempted to vault the pile of bodies to reach the end zone, but he was stopped short. So on fourth down, he tried to squeeze in but fumbled. On the right of the first photo below, Earlham linebacker Lajay Kelly (33) rushes in to the middle of the pile. The loose ball doesn't appear in the frame until the second photo below (bottom left of picture). The remaining photos are Kelly off to the races for a touchdown, Earlham's first of the game. 

Above: Lajay Kelly (33) catching his breath shortly after returning to the bench following his 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. 

Above and next four below: Earlham quarterback Treylon Anderson and receiver Marcaus Cooper (7) connect for a 37-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. 

Above: On the Quakers' last drive of the game, Anderson threw three times in a row to Cooper, to no avail. The Knights' Richie Sparrow (8) recorded another key defensive pass deflection on this pass in that series. 

An energetic slice of the home crowd (above) cheering their team during its fourth quarter comeback attempt, but as a whole, the Earlham grandstands seemed bereft of support (next two below). Perhaps it was because it was a holiday weekend.  

Above and next two below: Southern Virginia's first score in the fourth quarter came early, on this 11-yard run by Seth Hanson, after which he did an end zone leap to celebrate with teammates. 

Above and next two below: Running back Michael Frye capped a six-play, 69-yard Southern Virginia scoring drive with this 25-yard scamper to the end zone, slipping through tackle attempts by two Earlham defenders along the way. 

Above: This Marcaus Cooper 30-yard reception in the fourth quarter put the Quakers on the Southern Virginia 10-yard line. The Quakers scored on the next play on another Anderson-to-Cooper pass. 

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