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BETWEEN FRIDAYS NOTEBOOK

Bruins power running game starting to hit its stride

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Beddingfield High first-year varsity football head coach Carl Smith saw his offensive line as the secret to success in the run game in a 32-6 win over Smithfield-Selma on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

“My offensive line, they’ve grown so much in the last three weeks,” Smith said. “Those boys, they’ve learned, they’ve studied. They stayed focused. They did everything I asked them to do.”

The offensive line’s preparation for the Spartans made a difference in a game that was 10-6 at the half. Taking the field without shifty starting running back Jalil Hutcherson, the Bruins controlled the line of scrimmage all game, and particularly so in the second half.

While throwing just one pass all game, which fell incomplete, the offensive line opened up gaping holes for power back Raekwon Batts to rush for two touchdowns and 144-yards on 17 carries.

As a team, the Bruins only had three plays for negative yardage, a broken play in the second quarter, a sack in the third and a kneel down to close out the game as time expired. The rest went for positive and often huge gains that eventually wore down the Spartans, who gave up 22 points in the second half. 

DEMONS LOOM

Against crosstown opponent Fike of the 3-A Big East Conference on Friday, Beddingfield will look to continue to exploit the defense with the running game out of the power-I set that Smith installed this season. But the task will be tougher than it was the previous week.

The Golden Demons forced five turnovers — four interceptions and a fumble — on the way to their first win of the season last Wednesday at home against Kinston. 

With Beddingfield throwing no more than one pass per game so far this season, Fike won’t have many opportunities to pick off passes but the Demons will look to capitalize on the smallest mistakes for an advantage.

After Fike put up 292 yards of total offense and 35 points against the previously unbeaten Vikings, Friday’s opening clash of the Wilson County Championship round-robin is shaping up to be a battle of offense. 

OVERLOOKED TURNING POINT

A turning point in Fike’s 35-21 triumph against visiting Kinston last Wednesday occurred in the first half and was probably a situation of which spectators were unaware.

Golden Demons head coach Tom Nelson noted, on a third-down play, a Kinston defender threw the Fike player out of bounds and then cursed at him.

Nelson was astonished a flag didn’t fly.

Nonetheless, Fike retaliated by picking up a first down and driving to a tying touchdown. The Demons then took control in the second half.

KICKING GAME WOES

The Demons needed their first possession of the second half to seize the lead for the first time — and for keeps.

Breakdowns in the kicking game got them in trouble the first half. The Vikings capitalized on a muffed punt reception and a blocked punt.

“If we can clean all that up, we have a chance to be competitive,” Nelson contended. “I like the way we fought and our conditioning was good. We’ve got to throw a little better.”

DEFENSIVE ASSESSMENT

The Fike win was influenced by a defense that produced five turnovers. Senior Jacob Powell intercepted two passes, and freshman El Avent and senior Monta Howard each registered one interception. Sophomore Tyrell Boykin recovered a fumble. The turnovers led to three TDs.

“We have to work on filling holes on punts and work on our outside contain,” Powell said, “but it’s nothing we can’t fix.”

ALWAYS A TIGHT GAME

Nelson credited Kinston for “always giving us a tight game” and Vikings head coach Ryan Gieselman concurred.

“It’s one of the reasons we play them,” Gieselman said. “We get a good read on what our season is going to be like. It’s a war every time we play.”

The outcome was closer than the 14-point differential indicates. Kinston closed the deficit to 28-21, regained possession but threw a fourth interception. The Demons capitalized with the sealing TD with slightly over a minute remaining.

“We put ourselves in position to score late before turning it over,” Gieselman reviewed. “(With the score tied), we wanted to make them drive the field with the ball or play it out in overtime.

“We tried to attack a little more in the air. But when you turn it over five times, you are not setting yourself up for success.”

Kinston was also without starting quarterback Caleb Gooding, a junior, in the second half because of an injury suffered in the first half.

JOYNER ERUPTS FOR WARRIORS

While senior Tiquez Taylor continued to spark the Hunt offense, he took a bit of a back seat to sophomore backfield mate C.J. Joyner, who erupted for 198 yards on just 17 carries in the Warriors’ game Wednesday at C.B. Aycock. The best showing of his brief career to date saw Joyner score on two long runs as Hunt handed the Golden Falcons their first loss with a convincing 49-21 triumph.

Joyner scored from 33 yards in the second quarter to put Hunt up 21-13 and then dashed 55 yards for the game’s final tally in the fourth quarter.

“He played really well. Very tough running, always carrying some defenders all around the field and making a lot of guys miss,” said Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski. “And for being a sophomore, I was very pleased with the way he managed the game. When they took things away from Tiquez, he was right there to pick it all up.”

Joyner and Taylor give Hunt a pair of running backs who are averaging more than 120 yards per game each in helping the Warriors run to a tune of 319.3 yards per outing.

“It allows us to experiment and that’s something I think we’ve done a fairly good job of and that’s find the identity of the offense,” Sulkowski said. “With C.J. coming along and Tiquez doing what he does, it gives us so many different options. ... They’re just meshing right now and the O-line, I think, is doing a good job of getting our guys out in space. ... Right now, I’m just very, very pleased with our play on offense.”

GARWOOD EXTENDS TD STREAK

Senior quarterback Dalton Garwood hit classmate Chris Artis on a 50-yard scoring connection to give Hunt the first lead against Aycock. The touchdown extended Garwood’s streak of at least one scoring pass in the Warriors’ first three games.

Garwood has split time with junior A.J. Kovach and Taylor at quarterback but has taken the majority of the snaps, completing 12-of-30 attempts for 256 yards and four TDs.

Sulkowski said the triple-platoon would continue to guard against each QB being typecast in the offense, thus tipping off defenses.

“That package there with C.J. and Tiquez gives us a lot of different opportunities but when A.J. and Dalton get in, they make the most of their time and I think they’ve done a really great job embracing their roles right now.”

DEFENSIVE TDS A DELIGHT

Hunt scored not one, but two defensive touchdowns against a CBA team that had scored 81 points in its first two games. Senior linebacker Ricky Harris scooped and scored from 25 yards to put Hunt up by two touchdowns late in the third quarter. On the very next CBA series to open the fourth quarter, sophomore Christian Nicholson pounced on a Falcons fumble for another TD. 

“Anytime you can score two defensive touchdowns on back-to-back plays, you’ve got something going there,” Sulkowski said. “It broke the game open. ... So, getting takeaways has been a great thing for us and it puts our offense in good situations, especially if the other team doesn’t have a solid punter.”

Harris, Nicholson and seniors Jaylin Daniels and Zion Barnes, along with junior Aundrey Loftin, anchored the Warriors defense that limited CBA to 225 yards of offense. The Falcons entered the game averaging 381.5 yards in their two victories.

FIREBIRDS START STRONG AGAIN

While Southern Nash has a challenge in replicating its 2018 season, the 2019 Firebirds have gotten off as good as, if not better, a start as they did last year. With Wednesday’s 42-14 victory at home against Bunn, Southern Nash is 3-0 for the fifth year in a row and the Firebirds have outscored their opponents 160-42, compared to last season when they outpointed their foes 141-42 through three games on their way to a 673-point season.

But with the tougher part of its non conference schedule looming, Southern Nash can’t rest on its laurels, said head coach Brian Foster. 

“We lost a lot of good football players from last year. I think we’re getting there but every week there’s something, that you see it and just shake your head and wonder, ‘What are we doing?’” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “We just need to get more consistent. Special teams have been better overall, which is good, and defensively, we’ve just got to do what we’re coached to and can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over and over. That’s how somebody else gets a chance to play!”

With wins against Warren County and Nash Central, the Firebirds have faced only 2-A competition thus far, a trend that will continue Friday when they visit South Granville of the 1-A/2-A Northern Carolina Conference. The Firebirds finish their non conference schedule against 3-A Greenville Rose and Jacksonville Northside.

“You have to play who’s on your schedule and never take anybody lightly because you don’t know what’s going to happen. And I think our kids have seen that,” Foster said. “The Bunn game was 14-7 with seconds left in the first half. We’re going to get other teams’ best and our kids understand that.”

But the Firebirds head coach, in his 20th season, has been happy with what many of his colleagues might agree is the most important part of a team’s chemistry — effort.

“We can teach a lot of things but we can’t teach that,” he said. “I think for the most part they push themselves and don’t fool around and we don’t see anybody standing on the field, pouting or that kind of thing. I think from that standpoint, attitudes have been good but, you know, when you’re winning it’s a whole lot easier. We’ll see when adversity comes, how we handle that, but I have been pleased with the effort and attitudes.”

RUN AND GUN

When Zonovan Knight, who set single-season and career rushing totals at Southern Nash last season, left for North Carolina State University, there was definitely a void in the Firebirds offensive backfield even with returning senior and Wake Forest University commit Quinton Cooley back there. While sophomore Jackson Vick with his 11.5 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns, has ably complemented Cooley (384 yards, five TDS), senior quarterback Matt Foster has emerged as a bona fide running threat. Foster, the son of the head coach, showed flashes of that ability last season with 288 yards on 43 carries. However, Foster, who came back this season noticeably more muscular, already has accumulated 254 yards on just 24 touches for an 11.8 per-carry average.

On top of that, he’s also on the verge of surpassing his 2018 passing numbers of 362 yards and eight TDs as Foster currently has thrown for 324 yards and five TDs on 15-of-19 accuracy. But he’s also thrown one interception, something he didn’t do last season until week 4 when he threw both of his 2018 picks in the same game.

“We’ve given him more chances,” Brian Foster said of his youngest son. “With what we had coming back we sort of knew that would be the case, that he was going to get more touches. We’ve done some different things and it’s worked out so far — but he can still do much better and that’s the way I feel about all our guys. But it’s good to see and it makes our offense so much different when we have a quarterback who can do stuff like that. So, hopefully he can keep doing what he’s been doing and keep gaining confidence.”

LOOKING FOR A WIN

KENLY — North Johnston has been banged up with injuries in the early season, forcing the Panthers to pull heavily from the junior varsity roster after just three games. 

In Monday night’s 17-0 loss at home against Warsaw James Kenan, the Panthers (0-3) relied on the contributions of seven players who started the year on the JV roster. The seven have emerged as “impact players” for the varsity squad, said first-year head coach Michael Barnett.

In addition, the matchup against the Tigers saw two more injuries in linebacker Randy Locklear and quarterback Garrett Brown, who both went down and spent significant time on the ground with a back and ankle injury, respectively. 

As North Johnston (0-3) prepares for its second game of the week against 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference opponent Smithfield-Selma on Friday, Barnett said the biggest impact a double slate of games will have is potentially dwindling his team’s numbers even further than they already have been.

“Keeping everybody healthy is the main thing (that we’re hoping for),” Barnett said. “We’re a small 2-A school and the numbers just aren’t there. Well, they’re there but we’ve had five or six guys to go down with injuries and stuff.”

OLDER AYCOCK IS BACK

With injuries preventing the squad from playing with the same lineup every week, the Panthers hope to get a boost from the return of quarterback Camden Aycock against the Spartans.

Aycock, who has been unavailable for an unspecified reason since the season opener against Red Springs, will take over for his younger brother Carter Aycock, a freshman who finished the second half as the signal caller against the Tigers after Brown’s injury.  

Barnett said his option offense is still getting comfortable, still in its first season since installation in the spring, but it could be aided by veteran leadership from Camden Aycock.

SSS AWAITS PANTHERS

Both Smithfield-Selma and North Johnston run offenses that are more alike than different. While the Panthers run with a two-back set, the Spartans are in the third year of head coach Mike Parrish’s triple option, which sets up more misdirection and outside runs than the typical inside gains found in Kenly.

Both the Spartans (1-2) and Panthers have had tough starts to the season, but hope to get back on track by finding success through the run against a cross-county opponent. 

Smithfield-Selma has scheduled the Panthers for its homecoming game, a week where Parrish and the Spartans have been undefeated since the third-year head coach took over the program, a bright spot in back-to-back 1-10 seasons. 

Both schools are looking toward the game as a chance to turn things around.

“SSS has become a rival for us, so that’ll be good,” Barnett said.

GC-NORTH PITT POSTPONED

Greene Central’s nonconference game at North Pitt on Monday night was postponed “due to weather and field conditions,” per the Greene Central football Twitter account.

The game, which was originally scheduled for Friday but moved because of Hurricane Dorian, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 2, at North Pitt.

The Rams (0-2) of first-year head coach Jay Wilson will host Eastern Wayne on Friday, Sept. 13.

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