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After practicing for nearly a quarter, the Beddingfield High varsity football players put on their game faces and proceeded to a 35-20 2-A Eastern Plains Conference victory against visiting North Johnston last Friday night.
“It felt like practice,” second-year Bruins head coach James Ward noted. “That was the way we practiced all of Thursday.
“We knew North Johnston (up 13-0 in the first quarter) was going to give us their best punch — and they did. Maybe it was a good testament that we have a scrappy team that was willing to fight them.”
Worries and frustrations for the Bruins heightened when senior Zion Hinnant darted 42 yards with a kickoff return to North Johnston’s 20-yard line, but Beddingfield could not capitalize because of fumbling away possession.
“We could have easily given up,” Ward admitted. “We hadn’t done that — turnovers like that — all year. We fought for that one.”
And the Bruins steadily took the fight out of North Johnston with the old-fashioned belly play that featured solid blocking from senior center Willie Bridgers, senior guard Tacoby Coleman and 300-pound senior Damon Kardesoglu on the left side.
“And Raekwon Batts, Kedrin Parker and Zach Adams ran the fool out of the football,” Ward gleefully added.
HUGE TURNING POINT?
North Johnston head coach Jon Riba disagreed that Hinnant’s kickoff return was a huge turning point.
“We still gave them fits in the red zone,” the Panthers’ third-year head coach contended.
However, Riba disclosed that junior kicking specialist Graham Walston was instructed to kick short because Panthers’ coaches spotted an open area of some 20-25 yards behind where Hinnant was positioned.
“But we kicked it to right where he was,” Riba lamented.
Influencing the situation is the fact that Walston is a soccer player and was not available for Thursday’s practice because of a Panthers’ soccer match.
“That’s what you get when you have to deal with soccer (at the same time as football),” Riba said. “They don’t have to do that in California.”
During the conference opener for both teams, the Bruins returned three North Johnston kicks for 99 yards.
The Panthers also attempted a pair of onside kickoffs that were recovered by Beddingfield’s Isaiah Davis and Devon Roesch. Travon Newsome’s recovery of a muffed North Johnston punt reception led to a Beddingfield TD.
None of the kick returns set up scores but significantly influenced the Panthers’ losing field-position battle.
Ward complained about 12 penalties being levied against his Bruins for 130 yards.
Riba indicated he’s seen worst officiating, but was bothered the Bruins scored their final TD while he was unsuccessfully pleading to the official nearest him for a time-out.
Infractions nullified a pair of Beddingfield TDs.
“The penalties were unreal,” Ward complained. “I am a high school official myself, and you are going to make mistakes. But it’s about being in position to make calls.
“It was going against us; nothing was going our way. It wasn’t a state championship game but, every time something good happened for us, it was reversed.”
Of not getting the time-out, Riba expressed: “The score would have been 28-20 and not 35-20.”
The spotlight fell on Batts with 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns for Beddingfield.
The Bruins’ Bridgers was a workhorse, stepping in offensively at center and spearheading the defensive turnaround by being involved in at least six tackles for lost yardage.
Banged-up junior Jalil Hutcherson intercepted two passes and was an effective kick returner.
For North Johnston, senior nose guard Jacob Markham recovered two fumbles and Brennan Peeden hauled in six passes for 57 yards.
Riba also singled out the defensive efforts of senior Travis Riba, senior Diego Santiago, senior Brennan Rabil and senior Austin Lee.
Coach Riba commended his Panthers’ efforts and remarked: “We’re not a bad football team. We’re just not the same caliber as some of the others.
“We really enjoy playing Beddingfield. They have got talent and we get along well with their coaches. They had a better team than us and they came out on top.
“For us, it was about cracking the code for the defense they ran against us. The inability of our offensive line to control the line of scrimmage against what they were giving us changed the game.”
Ward reminded that he earlier commented that any team in the conference could beat the other on a given night, and mused: “It almost happened.
“But about the only success they had against us was when we had blown coverages.”
COACH WITH A GUN
An imposing individual wearing a Wilson Police shirt and badge and equipped with a holstered gun watched the Beddingfield-North Johnston game from the Beddingfield sideline Friday night.
He was asked if the Wilson Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department rotate the responsibility of providing security for Bruins’ home games.
The big fellow explained he was attending the game in the capacity as the head football coach at Darden Middle School.
He identified himself as Reggie Branch — Darden’s head football coach for 11 years and a member of the Wilson police force for 25 years.
In an attempt at a joke, the next question: “So, you’re the coach with a gun?”
“That’s me,” Branch responded with a wide grin.
Fike head coach Tom Nelson was impressed with the ruthless efficiency that Southern Nash displayed at the outset of the Firebirds’ 63-41 victory Friday to open 3-A Big East Conference play for both teams.
“They kicked off to us,” Nelson explained. “We got the ball on the 30, threw an interception and the next play they scored. Twenty seconds into the game we’re down 7-0 — and we got the ball first.”
Indeed, after the turnover, the first of three for the Golden Demons, Southern Nash junior Quinton Cooley peeled off a 58-yard scoring run — the first of his five touchdowns in the game.
By the time the first quarter was just past the midpoint, the Firebirds owned a 21-0 lead. Nelson pointed to the interception and a blocked punt in the quarter that contributed to the Demons’ demise.
“We had some chances offensively,” he said. “It didn’t have to be a shootout but we moved the ball in the first half and turned it over and against them, you’ve got to really take advantage of your opportunities and we didn’t. Our best defense was going to be a good offense and turning the ball over in the first half kind of sealed our fate.”
FIKE FIGHTS BACK
The good news for Fike is that the Demons have played what is likely to be the toughest conference opponent and, despite the score, they came away with some positives.
“We were one score away at halftime from being ‘mercyed’ and we fought back,” Nelson said of the 42-7 halftime deficit that needed just seven more Firebird points to trigger the running clock, which never came.
Fike kicked off to start the second half but recovered one of three fumbles the Firebirds lost and ended up turning it into points as senior Cody Cooper-Speight completed the drive with a 4-yard TD run.
“We were able to to play the whole game with the clock the way it’s supposed to be and not with a running clock,” Nelson said. “We really fought back in the second half and kept on playing.”
EVERYBODY IN ACTION
Southern Nash kept on playing, too. But even as head coach Brian Foster turned to his reserves in the second half, the Firebirds didn’t exactly have a big drop-off.
“That’s the thing about us,” Foster said. “Our first-team defense is our second-team offense and vice versa.”
Late in the game, Foster inserted some junior varsity players to get them some conference experience even in a blowout that ended up being a bit closer due to 20 points by the Demons in the fourth quarter.
“We dressed 49, 50 people and played all of them and that’s about all you can do,” Foster said.
But with four starters out for the season, including three on defense, Foster assured: “We didn’t get anybody else hurt, which, right now, is huge for us.”
The Southern Nash starting backfield tandem of senior Donovan knight and Cooley continued to impress. The two combined for 407 yards of the Firebirds’ 516 offensive yards and seven TDs. Cooley ran for 199 and his aforementioned five TDs while Knight gained 189 yards on the ground with one rushing TD and he pulled in Southern Nash’s only completion for 19 yards and another TD.
For good measure, senior fullback Daylon Whitley had a season-high 56 yards on nine carries and scored two TDs.
Knight and Cooley are first and second, respectively, in rushing among Times readership area players. Knight, who has verbally committed to N.C. State University, has 830 yards for a 15.4 per-carry average while Cooley is averaging 16.6 yards and has 730 total.
“They’re pretty good. They’d be nice to have!” Fike’s Nelson said.
While Fike’s senior quarterback Josh Avery threw 18 passes, and completed seven for 184 yards, Firebirds junior Matt Foster only threw twice.
But even with a relatively low number of pass attempts, the game dragged to more than two-and-a-half hours. But 15 kickoffs certainly helped slow down the proceedings as well as numerous penalties. Fike was flagged eight times for 80 yards and Southern Nash picked up 37 yards on five penalties.
“When you get games like that. … It was like there was no rhythm to the game,” Foster said. “I don’t know how long the third quarter lasted but it was a long time.
“We threw the ball twice and the game lasted two hours and 40 minutes.”
BIG EAST STREAK
The win was the the 12th straight in Big East play for the Firebirds, who were the preseason pick of conference coaches to win a third straight league title.
Southern Nash, now 5-0 overall and ranked No. 5 in The Associated Press 3-A poll, will visit Northern Nash on Friday before hosting two big games to close out the month — Hunt on Oct. 19 and Rocky Mount on Oct. 26.
Fike, 2-4 overall, has a crucial game Friday at home against Franklinton.
REST UP, BUT ...
As Hunt High head coach Keith Byrum watched the infant stages of his team’s massive comeback in a 36-35 victory over Northern Nash, he wrestled with an ongoing dilemma.
Coming off a strained calf muscle, just how much did Byrum wish to utilize junior Tiquez Taylor on both sides of the football?
The injury was sustained in the Warriors’ 22-0 loss to Beddingfield and resulted in Taylor being carried off the field. It encapsulated a night of frustration for Taylor and the entire Hunt roster, as its primary running back was held to one single, solitary yard.
“I tried as hard as I could to not overwork him,” Byrum said after Taylor’s 4 TDs brought Hunt back from a 35-14 third-quarter deficit. “And that can be a challenge sometimes, when you have a guy that you want to play on both sides of the ball and most plays. How do you give him rest?”
In Hunt’s case, the return of senior Isaiah Watson in his second game back from injury, as well as senior Shy DeBerry, allowed Taylor to take a pair of defensive possessions off as the Warriors rallied to their fourth win. Byrum is now assured of the most victories in a single season in his three-year tenure.
But with great rest comes great responsibility.
“What I told him, I was like, ‘Look, you’re getting these plays off, you better get your energy back and your legs back and get ready to run this football all the way down the football field,’” Byrum said. “And he did it!”
Taylor finished with 20 carries for 259 yards, breaking runs of 69 and 79 yards on Hunt’s final two possessions of consequence to spearhead the comeback. With Northern Nash driving for the potential game-winning score, Taylor pulled down an underthrown ball from Northern Nash quarterback Davontae Wiggins that was intended for Tarod Brown.
“Huge,” Taylor said of the win. “From the 22-0 loss to Beddingfield, we had to redeem ourselves. I just knew (the interception) would come my way. Coach told me before the play, they were going to throw it. I just knew it.”
Hunt recorded a pair of first-half interceptions by senior Jirhen Strickland that halted Northern Nash drives, but neither takeaway resulted in points. On the injury front, senior defensive end Terry Perry missed the contest with an ailment sustained during the Beddingfield game.
As much as Taylor’s heroics played a role in Hunt’s comeback, the final TD tied the game. The responsibility of providing the game-winning extra point fell to senior Kevin Moreno. It wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill extra point after the Warriors were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the 79-yard score.
Instead of taking the penalty on the kickoff, Northern Nash elected to have the 15 yards enforced on the ensuing try.
That made the go-ahead extra point a 35-yard effort. Moreno missed his first effort. However, a running into the kicker penalty kept the prospects for a game winner alive. With the spot of the football marched to the 13, Moreno took another crack from 30 yards out. There was little doubt about his second effort as it split the uprights. The Warriors led for the first time, and held on for the remaining 2:48.
HEARD ABOUT IT
There was no escape from the chatter leading up to the 3-A Big East Conference opener for Hunt (4-2). While the Warriors had an important game to prepare for, the aftermath from the humbling loss to Beddingfield was not blocked out from the program.
“Last week was tough on us,” Byrum said. “We played poorly. We heard about it. We all felt lousy, and we didn’t need to be told we played lousy. We knew it, and we felt that way. They all wanted to come out and make a comeback from that. I’m real proud of a lot of kids in a lot of different areas.”
FIRST DOWN TO TOUCHDOWN
Not much went right for Hunt in the first half Friday night. Despite running the majority of plays, Hunt had three of its four turnovers in the opening half. The opening drive resulted in a sack-fumble that resulted in a 4-yard TD return from Knights’ lineman Shakel Whitaker, and only an illegal block in the back on an interception return wiped out what would have been an 81-yard runback for Northern Nash’s Michael Taylor.
Another late lost fumble on a kickoff return put Hunt in a 21-6 halftime hole.
Then, there was the 87-yard kickoff return from Kameron Johnson to open the third quarter. At that point, the Warriors were down 28-6 and all but done. But in the midst of a terrible half, Byrum and the offensive staff saw the seeds being sown for long gains in the second half against what Northern Nash was giving them.
“Even in the first quarter, it wasn’t Tiquez doing it, it was a different kid (senior Sebastian Arias) doing it. But I could see that play, or a particular play, was going to be good for us if we could continue to run it. And I knew if it was (Taylor) running it, it would go from being possibly a first down to a touchdown.”
Northern Nash, under the direction of former Hunt defensive coordinator Andrew Farriss, committed itself to supplying constant pressure up the middle through the A-gaps. That approach yielded reasonable success against the Warriors’ inconsistent passing game. But in the second half with the game on the line, the Warriors got it blocked. That enabled Taylor to gain the edge and run without much resistance in the open field. On the game-tying TD, Taylor beat the angle of the safety to get in the end zone before Moreno’s extra point won it. A 69-yard run that bounced to the outside brought Hunt to within 35-29 a possession prior.
“We had people on the outside, we just didn’t get off our blocks or took the wrong leverage,” Farriss said. “I’d have to see the film to see exactly what, but I felt like we were just on the wrong leverage on those guys. That happens if you get out of position, and they made us pay.”
The Warriors picked up a win before hosting Rocky Mount and traveling to Southern Nash in the next two weeks, a formidable challenge for any team trying to climb the Big East ladder. Byrum didn’t deny the challenges that would have existed had Hunt not picked itself up off the mat from 28-6 early in the third quarter.
“If we had gone on feeling like we did last week, it would certainly make next week a struggle,” Byrum said. “Having the guys see firsthand again that if you don’t quit and keep doing what you’re asked to do and work and work and work, you can make good things happen — even if it’s not always a win. That encourages them to keep trying. And sometimes when you’re practicing, practice ain’t fun. It may not be fun to keep trying. Something’s got to make you want to keep trying.”
Greene Central’s A.J. Dupree has been touted as a candidate for both the offensive AND defensive player of the year honors in the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference this season.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound added to his consideration, at least on the offensive side, this past week when he was thrust into the quarterback spot when starter B.J. Corbitt was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms in the first half of Tuesday’s non conference game at FarmVille Central.
Dupree slid under center and helped the Rams pull out a 20-16 victory. Then, in Friday’s ECC game at North Lenoir, Dupree played the whole game at QB. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 100 yards and rushed 17 times for 109 yards and a TD.
“Yeah, our backup quarterback (Cole Dawson) is a our JV kid and he’s been sick and hurt, too, so he’s our emergency guy,” Rams head coach Allen Wooten said. “He knows all of our plays.
“With his baseball background, he’s got a good arm and he showed it Friday night.”
Dupree has been a big part of Greene Central’s success as the Rams are off to a 5-2 start, including wins in both ECC outings so far. In fact, in one of the losses — a 35-32 loss at Eastern Wayne on Sept. 7 — Dupree exited the game with an injury in the first half.
His value as a player and a leader is unquestioned, Wooten said, and Dupree has that rare quality of being able to make his own plays.
“He can be his own blocker sometimes and just make a play, even when there’s not really a play there,” Wooten said.