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Southern Nash High senior Quinton Cooley has no problem following in the footsteps of his former Firebirds backfield mate Zonovan “Bam” Knight, now the leading rusher at N.C. State University.
No, Cooley hasn’t rescinded his verbal commitment to Wake Forest University to join Knight and the Wolfpack next season, but the 5-foot-8, 193-pound Cooley will end his high school career, like Knight, in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Cooley became the ninth Firebird all-time to be selected for duty in the 83rd annual postseason all-star game between high school players from North Carolina and South Carolina when the rosters were released Sunday.
“It’s a honor to have another Southern Nash player to be in the Shrine Bowl after Zonovan!” Cooley said in a Twitter direct message Monday afternoon. “I’m very thankful.”
Knight was the offensive MVP for the N.C. team in the 2018 Shrine Bowl after rushing for 151 yards.
Cooley is one of the 44 players on the North Carolina roster for the game, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 21, at Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The other Firebirds to be picked for the Shrine Bowl were Tahj Deans in 2015, Aaron McFarland (2010), Phillip Dobbins (2009), Kwamaine Battle (2006), Nick Williams (2006), Julius Peppers (1997) and Lamont Avent (1991).
“I think he’ll represent our school well and he’s proven that time and time again,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster, who coached all eight of the other Shrine Bowl selections, including the last seven in his 22 seasons as head coach. “I think he’s done the things he’s supposed to do on and off the field.”
Cooley, who ran for five touchdowns and caught another in Southern Nash’s 55-27 win at South Granville, is the top rusher in the Times readership area with 609 yards and 14 TDs on 46 carries. Last season alongside Knight, Cooley ran for 1,756 yards and 30 touchdowns. His 413 rushing yards in the Firebirds’ second-round playoff loss to Eastern Alamance are a school record.
“If we put him on defense, he can play. Same with special teams,” Foster said. “He’s a football player and loves to play.”
FIREBIRDS 4-0 AGAIN
The Firebirds’ romp at South Granville could have been worse had it not been for a few too many yellow flags. Southern Nash incurred eight penalties for 80 yards but the timing was just terrible on several.
“I think we had three touchdowns called back,” Foster said.
That included would-be scoring runs by senior quarterback Matt Foster and sophomore running back Jackson Vick. Still, the Firebirds piled up 440 offensive yards with Cooley accounting for 257.
The other fly in the ointment, so to speak, were the late TDs given up mostly with the third-stringers on the field. South Granville scored on long runs on the final play of the third quarter and then another to start the fourth quarter. The Vikings also had a 43-yard TD gallop and a 55-yard fumble return in the fourth.
“You want to be getting better each week. W started the game better but we just didn’t finish very well,” Foster said.
But being 4-0 for the fourth straight year is good.
“I think we’ve done well. We’re a little beat up,” said Foster, noting that starting left tackle Zach Baker had to leave Friday’s game and may not play this Friday against Greenville Rose.
With starting left tight end Daniel Batchelor sidelined for a few games as well, the Firebirds will have some holes to fill on that side.
Foster said that his defense is showing improvement but there’s still some technique wrinkles that need to be ironed out.
The fact last Friday night’s high school varsity football games in The Wilson Times readership area were played on Friday, the 13th, apparently didn’t register among many area performers or, perhaps, they were completely unaware of the superstitious date.
Thus, “paraskeuidekatriaphobia” (fear of Friday, the 13th) was not an issue.
Hunt senior quarterback Dalton Garwood said he realized his team was playing on Friday, the 13th, but added that he was not superstitious. His Warriors pulled out a 15-12 win.
Fear of Friday, the 13th, didn’t bother a Beddingfield team that spilled Fike, 26-24. The time or place didn’t matter to a Southern Nash team that routed South Granville.
North Johnston certainly was not complaining after notching its first win by clipping Smithfield-Selma. The superstitious occasion produced Greene Central’s first win by an 8-6 margin against Eastern Wayne.
Some apprehension is attached to trekking to Bertie County any night, but undefeated SouthWest Edgecombe was not fazed in shellacking Bertie.
First-year Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski was glad Friday, the 13th, was not mentioned by any of his players or coaches.
Sulkowski insisted, personally, he’s not superstitious — except for wearing a championship ring from another coaching stop, donning a recently acquired visor and following the same pregame routine for every game.
Now, maybe, Fike had a reason to be uneasy.
The power-I formation isn’t necessarily built to come from behind, and is considered one of the primary drawbacks of installing the attack.
But Beddingfield put the memories of a poor first half behind it Friday night at Buddy Bedgood Stadium by doing just that.
How did the Bruins erase an early 10-point deficit and go on to limit Fike’s possessions in their 26-24 victory? Beddingfield simply maximized the value of winning the coin toss to its fullest potential.
The Bruins opened the game by getting Fike’s offense off the field in three plays. Beddingfield had immediate success in its run game, advancing the ball inside the Fike 30. But a holding penalty derailed the drive, and a blocked punt from the Golden Demons led to an Aaron Bancroft 21-yard field goal and gave Fike a 10-0 lead.
Undeterred, Beddingfield took the football and scored before halftime. Junior running back Raekwon Batts hammered off a 29-yard to start the drive and ended it with a 2-yard plunge with just 14.8 seconds showing. The Bruins took possession to open the second half and consumed 4 minutes, 20 seconds before Batts emerged from the line of scrimmage and rumbled his way to a 24-yard score. Beddingfield led 13-10, and didn’t trail again.
“We talk about and we plan about it,” Smith said of winning the toss and taking the ball to start the second half. “We wanted to put our best foot forward. We wanted to set the tempo, we wanted to play the energy to our advantage and it worked out for us.”
Had Fike executed the 2-for-1 in the same manner, Demons head coach Tom Nelson would have been pleased. Unfortunately for the Demons, his team was on the business end of touchdowns to close the first half and open the second.
“That’s exactly how you want to do it,” Nelson lamented. “It just comes down to, we’ve got to be able to get folks off the field. And then when we have the ball, we’ve got to be able to score.”
PAVING THE ROAD
Through four games, Beddingfield’s offensive line has taken to the power-I. A failure to get points in Northern Nash territory in the second half are all that arguably stands between the Bruins and a 4-0 start to the season.
But the combination of junior center Arnold Pender, junior right guard Zachary Jones, senior Devin Woodard at right tackle, senior tight end Donyel Sauls, sophomore Amantae Jones at left guard and senior Darryll Malachi at left tackle and junior Cedric Pope at the second tight end spot has turned the Bruins into a mean, road-grading machine.
“Those boys paved the way,” Smith said.
Another omen that it was Beddingfield’s night? The Bruins completed their first pass of the season in the second half when Garritt Harris found Sauls for a 14-yard gain on second down. The completion set off a louder-than-usual cheer from the visiting bleachers and helped keep a touchdown drive alive that culminated in a 3-yard plunge from sophomore fullback Keydrin Parker.
“We’re not going to throw the ball around the field, and we don’t want to,” Smith said. “We just want to be able to dink and dunk when we need to.”
Fike, now 1-3, now has two losses by a single possession, and in its other loss — a 35-14 defeat at Rolesville — the Demons were tied before the Rams put up 21 unanswered to close the proceedings.
The Demons, despite putting the ball on the ground at times, didn’t turn it over and were in position to drive for the winning score until sophomore quarterback Demari Daniels overthrew an open wheel route on fourth down along his own sideline.
Is Fike ready to entertain the stock notion of being the best 1-3 team in the state? Not in the slightest, Nelson assures.
“That is not a consolation,” Nelson said. “Now we’ve got to go down and face Lee County, with the No. 1 recruit in the state (defensive end Desmond Evans). Hopefully this will get us battle tested and we can learn from our mistakes and get better, and be ready when that second week in October games (start of 3-A Big East Conference play against Southern Nash)
Beddingfield’s assignment? None other than a home game with Hunt, which the Bruins shutout a season ago in Warrior Stadium. A victory would give Beddingfield its first outright Wilson County championship since 2009.
“We’re going to get them,” Batts said of the Warriors. “They’ve got to come see us.”
Hunt accumulated no points and just 101 yards total offense the first half, and trailed 6-0 against visiting East Wake (0-4).
Assistance for senior quarterback-running back Tiquez Taylor in the second half improved the situation.
“Tiquez, early on, was putting too much on his shoulders,” Sulkowski explained. “He feels like he’s expected to make all the big plays. And he doesn’t. We need to give his teammates opportunities to make plays.
“That’s why we made the change at quarterback (in the second half). We really felt it gave us a better opportunity to move the football. And we also eliminated some penalties.”
Senior Dalton Garwood lined up in the deep set at quarterback in the second half. The passing game clicked; Taylor became a workhorse at running back; and Hunt rallied to its third win against one loss.
“Dalton managed the game really well,” Sulkowski commended, “and he made some great throws.”
Garwood, connecting to five receivers, was on target 6 of 9 passes in the second half. He wound up 6 of 13 for 60 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
“We saw the corners were playing soft coverage,” Garwood explained Hunt’s aerial success. “They were 10-12 yards back and we tried to take advantage of the hitch.
“Of course, Davon (Jones) is a spectacular receiver; we had to throw to him and give him a shot. And when you have Tiquez Taylor at running back, you give him the ball.”
Garwood pointed to numerous three-and-outs and quick outs in the first half and mentioned that two lost fumbles played a big factor in Hunt’s sluggish offense.
COUGARS IMPRESSIVE AGAIN
After two wins to start the season, SouthWest Edgecombe may have put forth its best effort in a 47-0 win at Bertie County on Friday.
While the 2-A Northeastern Coastal Conference Falcons still have yet to win a game, the Cougars, favorites to repeat as 2-A Eastern Plain Conference champions, were solid in every aspect of the game.
“I was proud of the kids,” SWE head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “I thought they did a good job. I was certainly proud of the defense. I feel like we’re growing offensively and the passing game gets better each week. We’ve shown more diversity in the running game.”
That diversity was evident as junior Demari Mabry took the lead role in running for a season-high 101 yards and two TDs in just six carries. Senior Cortezz Jones, who entered the game as the Times readership area’s leading rusher, had just five carries that he turned into 51 yards. In total, seven ball carriers averaged 12 yards per rush for the Cougars.
With junior halfback Tayshaun Pittman out with an injury since a win at South Central on Sept. 4, that type of production has been key.
Friday’s rushing total of 251 yards was complemented by 133 passing yards by junior quarterback Ray Wooten, who completed 4-of-5 attempts for a pair of TDs to Jones and senior Keishon Porter. Jackson Lewis also had a 2-yard TD toss to Jaquan Wilkins.
“I always think it’s wise to bring on a new quarterback a little slower,” Cobb said of Wooten. “I think he’s grown each week. He’s got a pretty big game coming this Friday.”
‘FUNCTION AT THE JUNCTION’ LOOMS
Indeed, Wooten and his Cougars teammates do have a big game Friday — “The Function at the Junction,” as the clash with archival Tarboro is called when it’s held at SouthWest.
The Cougars haven’t beaten the Vikings since 2015. Tarboro, winner of two straight state 1-AA titles, is 4-0, including a 6-0 shortened victory over Rocky Mount in the season opener.
Cobb called the Vikings a “combination of great coaching and great talent.”
“We watch their film and we realize how well they do so many little things,” he said.
For the Cougars, currently ranked No. 6 in The Associated Press state 2-A poll, playing well against Tarboro will dictate what type of expectations they should have for the rest of the season, including those involving a chance to play for a state title.
“I think this Tarboro game is a fine litmus test for where we are in that line of thinking,” Cobb said.
The Cougars defense has been key to their success and that’s notable because only defensive back Michael Hussey and linebacker Keydar Darden are the only returning starters.
“The majority of our defense played JV football last year,” Cobb said.
That includes leading tackler, junior linebacker John Barrett (29 tackles), and junior defensive back Ja’quez Macon, who has returned two of his three interceptions for TDs, including one Friday.
“They’ve been growing well but we’ve played all spreads (offenses) and that’s what concerns me,” Cobb said.
That won’t be the case against the famed Tarboro T offense Friday.
AN IMPROVED OFFENSE
This season, Barnett has been preaching progress for his offense learning how to play in a new system.
While it has taken time for the offense to get comfortable, it appeared the Panthers were moving in the right direction in a 29-15 win over Smithfield-Selma last week. The reason? Senior quarterback Camden Aycock was back under center.
With key injuries at a number of positions, the team has been playing with a host of underclassmen. It seemed to make a difference alone for the team to have back one of its leaders, even if his statline of 12 rushes for 7 yards and 3-9 for 46 yards passing didn’t scream impressive.
In past weeks, the Panthers have struggled to score, or even answer to scores by the other team.
However, against the Spartans, North Johnston answered on the next offensive drive every time Smithfield-Selma had a gut-punching score that pulled it ahead.
Aycock scored twice on those such drives that brought his team back from a deficit.
His first 1-yard touchdown capped off a drive that gave the Panthers a miniscule 14-12 lead going into halftime, but a big boost in confidence.
“When we got to halftime, they were like, ‘we’re going to win it,’” Barnett said. “And that’s what we’ve been trying to get that confidence.”
Aycock’s next score came from 7 yards out to take the lead for good in the 4th quarter after a field goal by the Spartans briefly took the lead, 15-14. Soon after, North Johnston scored once more on a pick-six returned by Garrett Brown, who had been playing in place of Aycock in his absence.
“It helped us out big time because it would have been a really really close game if we hadn’t scored those last two times,” Aycock said.
For a team trying to figure out its offense, the ability to score was an improvement that will give the team more confidence moving forward against C.B. Aycock (3-1) on Friday.
PANTHERS OVERCOME PENALTIES
In the first three weeks, something different in each game stood in the way of the Panthers having much of a chance. Only this time, the program found a way to overcome it against the Spartans.
In week one against Red Springs, the offense couldn’t move the ball; the following week against Rosewood, injuries hampered the team and against James Kenan, turnovers wounded a team in search of its first victory.
“We’re not a bad team,” Barnett explained. “We’ve just made some mistakes at the wrong time.”
It didn’t take long for a new factor to emerge against the Spartans: penalties.
While SSS committed the most penalties by the game’s end, 23 of them for 168 yards in the negative, North Johnston committed its fair share of miscues as well. If not for four unsportmanlike conduct penalties called on the Spartans at the end of the game, the totals would have been nearly equal.
“There were penalties tonight? Oh my goodness,” Barnett said after the game. “I bet both teams had more penalties than yardage. I didn’t think the game would ever end.”
While Barnett’s exaggeration wasn’t exactly on par, North Johnston’s 76 yards of penalties on nine flags could have been the reason it dropped another game, had it not been bailed out by personal fouls and a flurry of encroachment penalties committed by Smithfield-Selma.
So far this season, the Panthers have yet to play a clean game. They will be hard pressed to be competitive against the Golden Falcons if the trend of penalties, especially personal foul penalties, continues.