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Firebirds’ Knight named to NC Shrine Bowl roster

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One look at Zonovan “Bam” Knight’s highlight reel reveals the Southern Nash High senior running back has a special talent carrying the football. But while the speedy 6-foot, 188-pounder has the moves and instinct, he will be the first to tell anyone the reason for his success. 

“Definitely my offensive line,” he said.

Unfortunately, the Firebirds offensive line won’t be able to block for him in his final high school appearance. No, not the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game, should the 6-0 Firebirds, currently ranked fifth in The Associated Press state 3-A poll, make it that far. Knight is one of the 44 players who will suit up for the North Carolina team in the 2018 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas on Dec. 15 in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“I feel like this is a good opportunity for me to have fun in my last high school game,” said Knight, who is the eighth Southern Nash player chosen for the elite postseason all-star game and sixth under head coach Brian Foster in his 21 seasons. The other Firebirds to earn Shrine Bowl duty were Tahj Deans in 2015, Aaron McFarland (2010), Phillip Dobbins (2009), Kwamaine Battle (2006), Nick Williams (2006), Julius Peppers (1997) and Lamont Avent (1991).

“When one of them gets recognition, it talks to all of them. Bam’s had some really good guys around him,” Foster said, pointing out Chris Smith, a senior tight end on last year’s team who helped pave the way for Knight.

This season Knight has rushed for 960 yards and 13 TDs on just 59 carries for a whopping 16.3 yards-per-carry average. For his career Knight has amassed 3,979 yards and is closing in on the Southern Nash career rushing record of 4,157 yards, currently owned by Tracey Coppedge, who played for Foster from 2008-11.

Knight will be one of nine North Carolina State University commits to play for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl, part of a major recruiting haul in the state by Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren and his staff.

“I think it’s great. We all get to play together in our last game,” Knight said.

BAM BAM, SWIPE SWIPE

Southern Nash’s 63-6 win over Hunt on Friday night — the worst ever for the Warriors in terms of points allowed and margin of defeat — had plenty of big-play highlights from Knight.

More on him later.

But in scoring on offense, defense and special teams, the Firebirds literally snatched — or swiped — a pair of takeaways from Hunt running backs.

Leading 28-0 in the second quarter, Hunt handed the ball to senior Dionte Alston. He gained the edge, but waiting at the end of the run was junior defensive back Jason Bland. Bland stood up Alston, but not before ripping the ball straight out of his hands and going the other way on a 43-yard fumble return.

Junior defensive end Devonte Edmundson followed suit before halftime. He met Hunt junior ball carrier Tiquez Taylor two yards behind the line of scrimmage and took the ball away, rumbling 33 yards for another fumble return that made it 49-6 Firebirds.

“I just ripped it and took off, really,” Edmundson reviewed. “It was a pretty good win because we haven’t played in like three weeks (actually two).”

The two takeaways turned what was already a one-sided game into more of a rout and assured a continuous clock at the start of the third quarter. Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster cited the turnovers as a key factor for the game getting out of control.

“I don’t really know,” Foster said of his team’s performance. “They turned the ball over some, and that just makes the score so crazy. I think we returned two fumbles for touchdowns, and it got away. It puts you in a situation where you don’t know what to do, and it’s just been a weird couple of years.”

HOPE IN THE READ OPTION?

While it’s borderline preposterous to glean a litany of positives from the worst loss in school history, Hunt’s offense had its moments in the first half of finding creases and seams against the Firebirds’ first-team defense.

To start, Hunt lined up in a full-house backfield and picked up two first downs before the Firebirds adjusted. But the touchdown came before halftime when the Warriors were able to feature Taylor and junior running back Zyquez Grooms in the same backfield. With Taylor behind center, he would have the option to keep it or hand off to Grooms.

On Hunt’s scoring drive using Taylor and Grooms in that role, Taylor ripped off a gain of 11, Grooms went for 20 and Taylor dashed 29 yards to the end zone on fourth and 29 where he kept the ball and got upfield.

“We tried not to tip that too early, Hunt head coach Keith Byrum said. “We were going to try to save that for a time when we felt like we needed it. And this was a good week for us to do it. But I don’t think that’s going to be a one-week thing. I think that’s going to be something that we continue to use, because number one (Taylor) has been electric all year long, and No. 28 has done a really good job too. The problem we’ve had is having them both on the field at the same time, and we want to do a little more of that. We want to try to keep both our best, well, two of our best players out there at the same time to give them more to worry about.”

BAM! BAM!

Knight, an N.C. State commit, doesn’t think he’s necessarily gained a step over the competition during his senior season, where he has racked up 960 yards and 13 rushing TDs in six contests. If the stats were a priority for Knights and the Firebirds coaching staff, those figures would be higher. 

Knight will, in all likelihood, eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for his career this week against Rocky Mount and has an opportunity to catch the 4,157-yard total of Coppedge against the Gryphons.

Knight hasn’t required many touches to do his damage this season, often running into the end zone on a single carry. It won’t go down as part of his career total, but included in that is an 80-yard jaunt against defending NCHSAA 4-AA champion Wake Forest on the Firebirds’ first play from scrimmage.

As if his four TDs on five rushing touches weren’t enough, Knight tacked on a 69-yard punt return in the first quarter.

“I definitely have to give credit to my line,” Knight said. “With them being young, and us having to replace our entire offense except for me, that’s a really good feeling knowing I can depend on them guys to help me to where I need to be on the field.

“I think he’s realizing what it takes a little more,” Foster said. “I think the Havelock game last year was big for him. I hate scores like that. Like last year, when we got into the playoffs, our kids hadn’t played. Until we played Havelock, they hadn’t played a game. It’s just frustrating. And then, the calls, I just don’t understand what we do sometimes.”

Southern Nash also trotted out a wildcat element in the win over Hunt, using Knight and junior Quinton Cooley behind center. 

That helped clear a gaping hole for Cooley in the second half where Knight took the snap and handed to Cooley, who jaunted 41 yards for one of his two TDs. Cooley actually outgained Knight, 135 to 130, on twice the carries.

“It was something new that they put in,” Knight said. “But I enjoyed it. I’m glad we ran it tonight.”

THE OFFICIAL WORD

Both head coaches — Foster of Southern Nash and Byrum of Hunt — found themselves at wits end with the officiating in such a one-sided affair. Neither team got away scot free in terms of player removals.

In the first half, Hunt junior Jaden Spruill and Southern Nash senior Darius Edmundson were involved in an altercation and thrown out of the game. Edmundson, as well as Spruill, were ejected and will miss their next contests — Hunt against Franklinton and Southern Nash versus Rocky Mount.

Later, Southern Nash senior Trysten Roberson was disqualified for targeting after hitting Hunt’s Taylor in the head going to the ground. Taylor remained down for a while, but got off the field under his own power.

High school football rules give officials latitude to keep a player in the game despite targeting if it is determined the opponent was not launched into. In the Hunt-Beddingfield game, Bruins senior linebacker Tacoby Coleman was flagged for targeting late in the game, but didn’t get thrown out after the officials deemed no launch was involved. 

“I blew my top a couple of times, and I’ve tried real hard over the years to not do that,” Byrum said. “But I’m going to give credit to the crew that officiated the game. Number one, they’re patient with me, and they probably didn’t have to be. I think they were trying to contain a lot of that. We had several conversations throughout the game about it, and sometimes officials are willing to talk, and sometimes they’re not.”

Foster was in no way happy about losing Edmundson and Roberson.

“To me, what happens in-between the whistles should be a whole lot more obvious than what happens when the play’s going on,” Foster said. “But I mean, that’s just the way it is.”

BRUINS’ QB SAGA

Beddingfield’s starting quarterback situation took another twist last week.

Only a few days after earning the starting job in directing the Bruins’ to a 41-13 victory at North Pitt on Friday, Oct. 12, junior Avery Huggins lost the job.

Senior Zion Hinnant was back under center for last Friday night’s homecoming game and quarterbacked Beddingfield to a crucial 25-7 2-A Eastern Plains Conference win against Nash Central.

Hinnant completed 5-of-10 passes for 52 yards and no interceptions and capped Beddingfield’s scoring on a 12-yard keeper on the first play of the fourth quarter. He was the holder on placement kicks for junior Bryan Rico.

“Zion did a good job of stepping in,” commended second-year Beddingfield head coach James Ward. “I am glad we gave him reps all week.”

Huggins reportedly lost his job when he decided to attend a basketball workout instead of football practice.

Of Huggins’ status, Ward said: “He’s suspended for now.”

LEARNED LESSON

Of reclaiming the position of starting QB, Hinnant responded: “I came to practice and worked hard.”

Hinnant didn’t get the nod the previous Friday night because he missed practice.

“I learned a lesson,” he assured. “First, I’m not going to open doors for anybody. Next is God. Then comes football and listening to my coaches.”

When asked of Huggins’ whereabouts for the Nash Central game, Hinnant responded: “The rest of us are here.”

Hinnant was understandably pleased with the Bruins’ performance in turning back Nash Central, 25-7.

“I’m not satisfied,” he emphasized. “I want a championship and respect — we don’t get enough.”

FOR HIS BROTHERS

Senior Zach Adams responded with a sterling all-around performance for the Bruins against Nash Central.

Adams drew defemsive praise, returned a kick to Nash Central’s 40-yard line to open the second half and set up a TD; bolted 24 yards for a TD; and piled up 80 yards on just seven rushes.

“I used my brothers for motivation,” he explained.

His brothers?

“My teammates,” he replied.

Adams endorsed Beddingfield’s smash-mouth brand of football against the Bulldogs.

“I like that,” he said. “That’s how we are supposed to be.”

HALFLTIME ADJUSTMENTS

Beddingfield built upon a 10-0 halftime lead with the aid of effective halftime adjustments.

“We played good,” Ward remarked. We made good halftime adjustments. Their two middle linebackers can fly and they were getting to our buck-sweep stuff.”

That’s when 5-foot-9, 230-pound fullback Raekwon Batts surfaced, slamming for the majority of his 80 yards on 15 rushes. Batts not only complemented Adams and Jalil Hutcherson but scored the Bruins’ first TD of the second half.

“We made pretty good adjustments,” Ward observed.

HAD TO BE A RECORD

Arguably the most stunning development of Beddingfield’s homecoming victory was the fact the game was completed in a scant 2 hours, 4 minutes.

Bruins’ game usually last a minimum of 2 1/2 hours and 3-hour marathons are not surprising.

“That had to be a record,” remarked the grinning Ward.”

Both teams preferred the run over the pass and only 19 passes were thrown, with seven completed. Each team committed just one turnover. The Bruins were assessed a season-fewest five penalties and Nash Central was flagged only three times. Time-outs and injury stoppages were at a minimum.

The 124 minutes included a homecoming halftime.

Ward joked that he telephoned to get the night’s lottery numbers and was informed it was only a few minutes after 9.m.

“I thought it was about 11 o’clock,” Ward added with a laugh.

DEMONS’ D UNDER FIRE

The Fike offense has totaled 1,052 yards and 98 points the last three games. That’s an average of 350.1 yards and almost 33 points in each of those games, all in 3-A Big East Conference play.

But the Golden Demons have lost all three, giving up 142 points in their 0-3 start to league play.

“We’re having trouble getting people off the field,” Demons head coach Tom Nelson said after Friday’s 42-21 loss at Rocky Mount.

On Monday afternoon he offered a deeper explanation of his defense’s ills.

“We’re not tackling well,” Nelson said. “We’ve got some young guys on one side of the defensive line; that’s a big step from JV to varsity. It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things that we need to do better.”

Perhaps Fike’s best defensive performance was the 38-34 win at Beddingfield in week 4. The Demons held the Bruins, in their only loss, to 14 points and 143 yards through three quarters, including a scoreless third quarter. But Beddingfield rallied for 20 points in the fourth quarter and Fike’s defense has struggled ever since.

TOUGH STRETCH

Part of Fike’s problem has been the schedule. Two weeks ago, Southern Nash, unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in The Associated Press state 3-A poll, creamed the Demons 63-41 and Friday night Rocky Mount improved to 7-0.

The game in the middle, a 37-36 homecoming loss to Franklinton, is the one that is harder to explain. Fike led 36-8 in the second half. However, the Red Rams are 7-2, meaning that Fike’s opponents in that stretch are a combined 20-2 overall. 

The last two games on Fike’s schedule are winnable, even for the 2-6 Demons. Fike, loser of four straight, hosts Northern Nash (3-4, 0-2 Big East) on Friday as the Knights look to halt their own three-game skid. The Demons finish the conference season on Nov. 3 at Hunt, as the Warriors, who have lost by a combined 112-6 in their last two games, are dealing with lots of injuries.

The Hunt game could be the last of the regular season. Nelson said that Fike’s game against Triton, washed out by Hurricane Florence on Sept. 21, has still not been set to be made up Nov. 9, the date allotted by the NCHSAA for games that were postponed due to the hurricane and its aftermath.

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