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BETWEEN FRIDAYS NOTEBOOK: Firebirds honor Keen, open with rout of Green Hope

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The matter of a game began and ended successfully for the Southern Nash High varsity football team in its season opener Friday night as it defeated Cary Green Hope 49-28.

But before that, the Firebirds took a moment to honor the memory of Aaron Keen, the longtime Southern Nash waterboy who was killed in a car accident in February.

Keen, whose unmistakable voice could be heard shouting “They don’t want it!” when the Firebirds began to exert physical dominance over an opponent, was loved by players, coaches and fans like. Stenciled at midfield along with the Southern Nash “all in” battle cry was Keen’s trademark “00,” which he wore on the sideline each week.

Before kickoff, players and coaches gathered on the sideline and lifted water bottles skyward in Keen’s honor.

“I just don’t think anybody understands what Aaron meant to everybody,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “Especially a lot of our school and our football program. It just doesn’t seem right to have football without Aaron. It is what it is, and we wanted to do something to honor him. He just meant a lot to everybody, and I just thought it was a good way to try to make sure he’s with us all year, because a lot of these guys have spent a whole lot of time with him.”

PICK YOUR POISON

Just 12 seconds into the season, Southern Nash took a 7-0 lead on Green Hope thanks to a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from senior Darius Edmundson. Edmundson’s speed in the open field as a junior led to several long TD runs despite limited carries.

However, should opponents opt to kick deep — albeit away from Edmundson — their second option isn’t any better. Patrolling the back line on kickoff returns is senior Zonovan Knight, the Firebirds’ electric runner who has committed to N.C. State.

“We put him opposite of Bam (Knight),” Foster said. If people are going to kick it deep, they have to decide which one they’re going to kick it to. That’s two good guys that are capable of breaking long runs.”

Junior Quintin Cooley remains a threat on punt returns, but with the departure of Kendrick Bell to graduation, the Firebirds have moved Cooley from an outside linebacker spot into the backfield. Cooley debut was a success, leading Southern with 165 yards on 14 carries. Cooley had a 72-yard scoring burst in the fourth quarter.

On the injury front, the Firebirds didn’t escape unscathed. Senior outside linebacker Hunter Thorne was lost for the season with a knee injury, and senior tight end Donovin Thompson was in the process of being medically evaluated.

The Firebirds visit Nash Central on Friday night.

WHERE ARE THE BENCHES?

Something wasn’t right about the setting for the 2018 varsity football opener in Beddingfield’s stadium last Friday night.

Benches were situated on the visitors’ sideline but not along the Beddingfield sideline.

Turns out, the absence of benches for the Bruins’ players was by design.

Head coach James Ward noticed the practice was implored in the 4-A Pinehurst High program and he instituted it during the second half of Beddingfield’s 2017 season.

“We do it to keep (the players) more tuned in,” Ward explained.

But along the home sideline was a small tent equipped with a large fan, a small fan and a few pull-up chairs. The purpose, Ward reported, is to review, discuss and adjust when members of the offense, defense and special teams come off the field.

But boys will be boys.

Late in the game and with Beddingfield in command, Ward was unable to spot some of his mainstay players. You guessed it. He found them, if you will, “chilling” in the nice and cool huddle sideline.

“You turn the ball over four (actually three) times, give up 200 yards (actually 125) on screen passes and you’re over there having a party,” the irritated Ward fumed.

Party over and all players standing.

HER ACHING FOOT

Junior Lynsey Reason established Beddingfield High varsity football history in the Bruins’ 43-6 rout of Oxford Webb when she became the first female player to score a point.

In the role of starting place-kicker, Reason was accurate on her first two extra-point attempts and wound up 3 for 6.

“I could have done better,” she remarked. “But my (kicking) foot hurts. We practice 24-7 and don’t get a day off.”

Nonetheless, Reason was understandably proud of her feat (not feet).

“I feel good,” she responded. “I accomplished something. I made a reputation for myself.”

SACK ATTACK

Beddingfield’s defense wound up throwing the Oxford Webb running game for minus-28 yards for the night. A huge reason was six tackles for lost yardage and five quarterback sacks.

Junior Devon Woodard and freshman Messiah Woodard, in limited playing time, registered two tackles for loss and a sack each. Ward also lauded the efforts of junior Davallice Rasberry and senior Willie Bridgers.

COACH’S ASSESSMENT

Ward spoke of pluses and minuses in assessing Beddingfield’s season-opening victory.

“Defensively, we flew around to the football,” he said. “We ran the football good. But we are still missing a lot of blocks and we’ve got to get better throwing the football.”

The only physical casualty was sophomore Jesse Anderson with a knee injury.

MEAN STREAK

If Friday’s season opener against Eastern Wayne is any indication, losing hasn’t sat too well with the wide receivers and offensive line of the Hunt Warriors

After further evaluation of the game film in a 34-31 victory, the 500 yards of total offense reported by third-year head coach Keith Byrum on Friday night morphed into 509. For those using a clipboard and pen at home, that’s 379 yards rushing and 130 through the air.

The creases and seams for junior running backs Tiquez Taylor and Zyquez Grooms began on the perimeter before working their way inside.

Hunt’s wide receivers drew their fair share of holding calls, but that was something that Byrum, while not endorsing the penalties, was more than happy to correct during Monday’s practice.

“They were very, very aggressive,” Byrum said. “As aggressive as we’ve been probably, trying to block downfield. And that’s one of those things that turns your five- or six-yard run into your 25-yard run.

Taylor finished with 230 yards on 20 carries, including the go-ahead 64-yard TD in the final minutes. He added a 41-yard scamper on Hunt’s opening drive and sauntered 63 yards for a score in the third quarter.

Grooms eclipsed the 100-yard mark, getting 104 yards on 12 carries.

“The both of them did a pretty good job of once they got through those lanes, jumping out to the next level on their own. They made some pretty nice plays with their own athletic ability. Definitely the line did well, giving them the opportunity to get going. But once they got going and got to the next level, their athletic ability kind of took over.”

Senior Cam Watson at left tackle, senior Latrell Ruffin at left guard, junior center Jordan Harris, senior Nassem Williams at right guard and sophomore Adisen Jones at right tackle led the way as the starting group up front.

Dealing with a variety of bumps and bruises already, the Warriors lost a key two-way contributor in the first quarter after senior Isaiah Watson went down with a sprained knee in the first quarter. That loss fiddled with depth in the Hunt secondary as well as its receiving corps.

Senior Elijah Anderson, who hauled in a 60-yard TD pass from classmate Nathan Lemons, is dealing with a sore ankle. Senior Treighjen Tunnell emerged from the contest with a shoulder sprain.

“The other guys are just going to have to step up and do their job,” Byrum said.

The Warriors are at Hertford County on Friday.

KICKING BREAKDOWNS

Breakdowns in the kicking game loomed especially costly for Fike in its 27-20 season-opening loss to visiting Northern Durham.

Two punts were blocked. Northern Durham returned one for a TD and the other block set up a TD. The Golden Demons failed on a trio of extra-point kicks and a field-goal attempt.

“We had breakdowns on the punt team,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson acknowledged, “and we just missed the kicks wide right.”

The kicking game has been a staple of Fike’s success since Nelson’s arrival, and he declared: “We are going to be OK; we are going to get it worked out. When we work through a few issues, we will be fine.

“We did good stuff offensively and defensively, and we had the capability to win the game. If we can learn something from it, we’ll be OK.”

The Demons welcome 4-A East Wake this Friday night.

ONLY 26 PLAYS

The SouthWest Edgecombe offense ran only 26 plays -- 20 rushes and six passes -- in its 54-0 debacle of visiting Pasquotank County in both teams’ season opener last Friday night.

At the request of the Pasquotank head coach, the scoreboard clock ran continuously the entire second half. In other words, stoppage of play occurred only for time-outs and injuries.

“I didn’t get to call a lot of the plays I wanted to call and see people do things I wanted to see them do,” expressed Cougars head coach Jonathan Cobb. “But I can’t complain too much.

“I was pleased with some things and, some things, we’ve got to improve upon before we get into the meat of the schedule.”

SouthWest’s pass defense dazzled. The Cougars intercepted five passes, and three thefts were returned for touchdowns.

A penalty negated one TD return of an interception and the first came on Pasquotank’s opening possession and led to a SouthWest TD.

About the only SouthWest blemish was losing junior Deontray Ebron with a broken leg on a defensive play.

The Cougars visit county rival North Edgecombe on Friday evening.

ONSIDE SUCCESS

The ability to recover a pair of onside kicks in the second half propelled visiting North Johnston to a 27-26 come-from-behind victory against Southeast Halifax last Friday evening.

The Panthers of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference trailed 26-13 with five seconds elapsed in the final quarter. North Johnston recovered the first onside kick to open the second half and the second one in the final minute to score the touchdown and kick the winning extra point with 47 seconds left.

Also aiding the comeback were two field goals and a trio of PATs by junior kicker Graham Walston.

Up next for the Panthers is Rosewood on Friday night.

FALCONS FLY, 12-0

Sophomore quarterback Clay Matthews launched a pair of TD passes to lift visiting Charles B. Aycock to a 12-0 victory against Rosewood last Friday night.

Matthews fired a 30-yard TD to junior Alijuan Moore strike midway through the third quarter and found senior Jaylan Robinson for 26 yards and a TD in the final quarter. The drive featured a long completion to Robinson early and senior Tyrie Artis’ gallop to Rosewood’s 30-yard line. An interception set up the march.

A sack from senior outside linebacker Tyler Parrish enabled the Golden Falcons to halt a Rosewood march inside CBA’s 10-yard line in the closing moments.

14-0 LEAD NOT ENOUGH

Despite owning a 14-0 lead at halftime, host Greene Central was dealt an 18-14 loss by 4-A South Central in the season opener for both teams last Friday night.

The 2-A Rams’ TDs came on sophomore Cornelius Smith’s 19-yard burst and senior receiver Saquan Conner’s 34-yard reception.

Jemere Artis supplied South Central’s decisive TD with two minutes, 40 seconds remaining. The Falcons also struck on Jeremy Lewis’ 49-yard reception and Artis’ 1-yard plunge.

Greene Central is the guest of neighboring Charles B. Aycock on Friday night.

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