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BETWEEN FRIDAYS NOTEBOOK
With unfriendly, chilly passing conditions serving as the backdrop for the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs Wednesday night, expecting Fike High to duplicate its passing output from its regular-season shootout win over Erwin Triton was simply unreasonable.
In Fike’s 34-31 victory in September, the Demons torched the skies for 367 yards passing, all but six of that total coming from senior quarterback Jaelynn Melton. Senior wide receiver Brandon Atkinson had six grabs for 226 yards and two TDs, including a 94-yard catch and run.
But even though Fike finished the rematch just 5 of 10 for 76 yards, the intent to exploit a potential advantage was still in place in the 30-14 win.
Senior Porter Watson and his 6-foot-4 frame became the beneficiary of Fike’s attempts down the field. He pulled in a 36-yard pass from Melton after the quarterback faked a handoff and sprinted to the line of scrimmage. That drew the secondary up, and Melton, before crossing the line, unleashed a throw to a wide-open Watson down the sideline.
Watson later played basketball on grass, boxing out his smaller defender and snaring a quick 5-yard TD on the slant route from Melton.
As was the case in the first meeting, Triton had problems covering Atkinson. He finished with just two receptions, but made his presence felt by drawing a pair of defensive pass interference calls downfield.
The official had no interest in listening to the pleas of the Triton defensive back assigned to Atkinson.
“You cannot grab him!” he said.
In taking a 21-0 lead into halftime, the performance on both sides of the ball left head coach Tom Nelson pleased.
“Offensively in the first half, we moved the ball real well,” Nelson said. “We were able to throw the ball in bad conditions.”
THAT SECOND HALF
Despite a first-half shutout and taking possession to start the second half, it never got completely comfortable for the Demons in the second half.
Fike had to overcome a muffed punt, a 40-yard field goal that landed well short in the bitter cold, an 18-yard punt, a lost fumble and a trio of three-and-out possessions.
The muff allowed Triton to continue a drive at midfield and score its first TD with an 11-yard burst up the middle. Senior kicker Walker Gliarmis knocked through a 24-yard field goal to re-establish a three-score advantage at 24-7 with 11:33 to go, but a Demons giveaway on a fumble quickly led to a five-yard plunge that made it 24-14 with 4:26 to go.
A 45-yard run from senior Justin Daniels accounted for the final margin, but it remained two possessions until the Demons stopped Triton on downs inside Fike territory in the final minute.
“The second half, our snaps were bad,” Nelson said. “We didn’t take care of the football. Our defense played OK, but we put them on the field time and time again with the turnovers. I just hate that we didn’t end it the way we should have.”
Daniels reached the 20-carry mark and went over 100 yards rushing as junior Cody Cooper-Speight is out for the remainder of the season after sustaining a broken collarbone against Hunt.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT SHOWS
A regular-season game that Nelson feared was teetering into Arena League territory tightened up considerably in the postseason.
Triton’s wing-T offense gashed the Demons for 387 rushing yards in September.
In the rematch, that figure shrunk to just 98 yards on the ground.
Not only did an 18-yard loss on a dropped field goal snap figure into that total, but pressure from the Fike defensive front was constant in getting to Triton quarterback Justin Leggett.
Seniors Jalen Currie and Dangelo Hodge led the charge, getting into the backfield and registering sacks that further impeded the Hawks’ rushing total.
“The first game, they were showing us different fronts. But in the second half (of the first game), they figured out what worked with the 4-4,” Triton head coach Ben Penny said. “We knew that’s what we were going to get tonight.”
EARLY SPECIAL TEAMS MOMENTUM
Fike’s defense received a needed boost with the early 60-yard fumble return from junior Jaquan Applewhite off the mishandled field goal snap. Triton’s wing-T moved the ball methodically on the opening drive, possessing the ball for approximately eight minutes. However, 18 plays from scrimmage went for naught when kicker Jose Ramos never got the chance to put his foot into a 39-yard attempt. Instead, the snap was mishandled, allowing Applewhite to scoop it up and return it 60 yards.
From there, Fike’s defense dug in. The Demons only surrendered TDs after short-field turnovers.
Triton fullback De’marius Staton, who had 170 yards against the Demons in the regular season, was held to 73 yards Friday night. Da’John Williams, his backfield mate who supplied 121 yards and three TDs against the Demons in September, had just 23 yards on eight carries.
“Besides that first drive, I thought our defense played better,” Nelson said. “We slowed them down a little bit. (Staton) probably had 250 yards against us last time!”
NEXT BRUINS HURDLE
With Thursday night’s 23-12 triumph against visiting Farmville Central, the Beddingfield High varsity football team hurdled the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs for the first time in two seasons.
Up next for the No. 4-seeded Bruins is a second-round test at home Friday night against No. 5 Wallace-Rose Hill.
The assignment will be formidable to say the least. The Bruins don’t have to play in the infamous Dog Pound, but the opponent is the team that won the 2016 1-AA championship and, in its 2-A debut last Friday evening, shelled Ayden-Grifton 42-3.
First-year Beddingfield head coach James Ward knows it’s time to put last week’s positives in the past.
“It’s hard to beat somebody twice,” Ward noted, “and (Farmville Central) was ready. It was our first time playing with a wet football, and we did a good job of taking career of the football. We did have a couple of bad exchanges (on snaps) and that’s something we have to work on.
“Other than that, we played good. And the defense played a good game.”
Beddingfield clinched its first-round victory with the interception return for a touchdown from junior linebacker Zion Hinnant.
Sophomore Jalil Hutcherson, senior Mitchell McCoy, junior Zach Adams, senior Marcus Parker, junior Tacoby Coleman, junior Willie Bridgers and senior Rico Harris emerged big-play defensive performers.
Senior place-kicker Jose Cabrera continued to be Ward’s “secret weapon” with a personal-long field goal of 36 yards and a pair of extra-point kicks on as many attempts.
The Bruins registered 255 yards total offense despite a Farmville Central defensive unit that listed 6-9, 335-pound Alvin Grizzard; 6-foot, 300-pound sophomore Colby Ellis; 6-3, 290-pound junior Tamaj Moye; 6-2, 290-pound senior Demetrius Steen and 6-2, 329-pound junior Keziah Everett.
Beddingfield players didn’t seem to notice the Jaguars’ collection of Goliaths. At least, the Bruins weren’t awed.
“We had some big, strong bodies and were able to accomplish our goals,” Coleman commented. “We played OK and came up with a win. But we’ll come back better next week.”
The Jaguars benefited from the return of several players who had not played in several weeks. That number included Grizzard, Everett and Moye.
Farmville Central’s immense size resulted in the Bruins having to rely on big plays on the ground and through the air.
“We played them a little different,” Jaguars head coach Scott Gardner explained. “We made them stay between the tackles and slowed them down a bit more. The guys we had coming back played most of the game and did a good job.”
But crippling was senior Beddingfield quarterback Sean Jones’ 45-yard TD pass to Hutcherson in the second quarter that erased a 7-3 Farmville Central lead.
“We gave up that one pass,” Gardner lamented. “That was the changer.”
In the playoffs, how can a team score 42 points in one quarter?
Southern Nash did just that against visiting Fayetteville Westover last Friday evening. The Firebirds led 42-0 after the opening quarter en route to a 76-12 win.
Here’s how it happened:
Westover fumbled the opening kickoff and Southern Nash sophomore Quinton Cooley recovered. The Firebirds fumbled the football back to the Wolverines, but the development was an indication of what was to come.
Southern Nash, with the aid of tackles for lost yardage from senior Kevin Terrell and junior Justin Quintavalle forced a punt and assumed possession at its 47-yard line. Four plays later, junior Zonovan Knight thundered 55 yards for the first TD.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Firebirds’ Cooley was the first to the football and gave his team possession at Westover’s 26-yard line. Knight slammed the last 5 yards.
On Westover’s next play from scrimmage, Southern Nash junior Kedric Anderson recovered a fumble. Six minutes still remained in the quarter when senior Kendrick Bell stepped the last five yards.
Pinned deep, the Wolverines managed a 11-yard punt to Westover’s 14-yard line. Senior Kelvin Whitaker zipped the last seven yards.
Southern Nash’s defense again forced a punt. Cooley received the punt, weaved, broke several tackle attempts and dashed 48 yards for a TD.
With time growing late in the opening quarter, Southern Nash senior Dae’One Wilkins intercepted a Westover pass and Knight capitalized with his third TD of the quarter on an 8-yard carry.
Carlos Garcia kicked his sixth extra point and Southern Nash led 42-0 with 56.5 seconds still left in the first quarter.
TIME FOR RESERVES
The second half for Southern Nash belonged to its reserves on offense and defense.
At halftime, the Firebirds’ swarming, punishing defense had not only pitched a shutout but allowed but one first down and minus-31 yards total offense.
Head coach Brian Foster assured the starters were not upset with the back-up players over allowing two second-half TDs.
“I just wish we had seen more effort,” Foster expressed. “That’s uncalled for. But they work hard during the week like the other guys do and deserve a chance to play.”
According to NCHSAA regulations, the scoreboard clock is allowed to run continuously once a team constructs a lead of at least 42 points.
As early as the second quarter, the clock could have been stopped only for scores, time-outs and injuries. Westover vetoed such action in the second quarter but the clock automatically ran continuously the second half.
Southern Nash arguably kept the score down by playing reserves exclusively the second half.
“I can put them out there,” Foster reasoned, “and that’s about all I can do.”
Firebirds’ substitutes outscored Westover 20-12.
Next Friday night, the No. 3 Firebirds welcome No. 6 Eastern Alamance in an attempt to get past the second round for the first time since 2009.