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PINETOPS — Winning the scoring battle in the second half — especially the fourth quarter — eased the sting of a season-ending defeat for the SouthWest Edgecombe High varsity football team before a turnout in excess of 1,000 on a mild Friday evening in the SouthWest stadium.
But North Davidson’s near-perfect first half created a desperate predicament for the No. 2-seeded Cougars in a 56-28 loss in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-AA playoffs.
The Black Knights, seeded No. 3 among the 16 East Region qualifiers, found the end zone all five first-half possessions in building a 35-0 cushion. SouthWest, the Eastern Plains Conference champion, demontrated plenty of fight and pride in the final two quarters in outscoring North Davidson 28-21, including 14-7 in the final quarter.
With slightly over a minute elapsed, SouthWest’s first appearance in the third round since 2015 was delayed 30 minutes when junior North Davidson running back Kobe Brown was removed from the field by the Edgecombe County rescue squad after suffering a leg injury on the Knights’ first play from scrimmage.
The Cougars exited with a 11-3 record while North Davidson, stopped in the East final last year, vaulted to 12-2 and took the next step of “unfinished business.” The Knights oppose Thomasville Ledford, which defeated North Davidson 9-7 in the final regular season game to win the Central Carolina Conference, in the East final. Ledford advanced with a 22-6 triumph against Hertford County.
HOW IT HAPPENED
“I wonder how it happened,” commented SouthWest head coach Jonathan Cobb of the Knights’ ability to turn in a clinic-like performance in the first half. “But all year long, I have felt like we were vulnerable to the pass. It was not our strength. And neither have we played many teams with a prolific passing game. We did tonight.
“Their quarterback (6-foot-2 junior Landon Moore) is special; he had a phenomenal night. Their receivers get open and catch the ball. They are a great football team. We didn’t have an answer for what they did defensively.”
Added assistant coach Glenn Warren: “We knew they were that good, but we didn’t know they were that fast. They were as quick as we were and had beef.”
SouthWest’s defense was all but helpless the first half against the Knights’ run-pass option.
Throwing to a bevy of sure-handed receivers, Moore connected on a staggering 20-of-22 passes the first half for 224 yards and three touchdowns. At one stretch, Moore was on target on 17 consecutive passes.
He finished with 32 completions in 39 attempts for 355 yards and six touchdowns. Moore has thrown 37 TD passes this season.
ALL WEAPONS BACK
“We have finally got all our weapons back,” said North Davidson head coach Brian Flynn. “That makes the job a little easier for Landon. We take what the defense gives us. If they load the box, we throw it. If they give us room for Landon, we run it. We are locked in and focused.”
After the injury, the Knights marched for a TD with 230-pound senior defensive lineman Devon Welch plowing the final yard on the “jumbo” play.
North Davidson attempted an onside kickoff — which was recovered by senior Justin Moore. The Cougars argued in vain that the kick never touched the ground before being grabbed by Moore and contended the video clearly showed as much.
The Knights capitalized with Moore’s 33-yard TD strike to sophomore Jamarien Dalton.
SouthWest senior quarterback Jayden Lewis considered the ruling on the onside kick the turning point.
“That was big,” Cobb declared. “But that’s something you can’t control and you have to get the ball back. The whole situation was unfortunate.”
With SouthWest’s offense stagnant, North Davidson piled up its halftime margin on Moore’s 16-yard aerial to junior Mason Everhart, sophomore Darain Green’s 4-yard plunge and Moore’s 16-yard pass to Dalton. Senior Colby Skotthy and sophomore Jake Marion each kicked four extra points.
“Getting that first three-and-out was huge,” Flynn contended “That made a statement. We went down and scored, got the onside kick and scored again.”
But the Knights demonstrated they weren’t invincible to start the second half.
An errant snap on a punt attempt resulted in the Cougars gaining possession at North Davidson’s 2-yard line. Senior Jareil Collins slammed in from there and junior Hunter Hopkins kicked the PAT.
Three plays later, SouthWest senior Zykei Callahan pounced on a fumble, giving the Cougars possession at North Davidson’s 8-yard line. On the first play, Lewis hooked up with heralded junior receiver Keishon Porter for the TD. SouthWest trailed 35-14.
“I wouldn’t say the first half was perfect,” Flynn noted, “but it was pretty danged good. The second half was like a nightmare at times — the bad snap, the misread on a screen pass and the fumble.”
Senior SouthWest defensive leader Jelan Smith intercepted the screen pass and the Cougars stopped another threat on senior Tariazzi Williams’ fumble recovery.
However, the Knights bounced back on Moore’s TD passes of 25 yards to senior Jackson Ferrell, 7 yards to sophomore Brady Gum and, finally, 9 yards to Ferrell.
“I was proud of how we responded,” Flynn expressed.
WON 4TH QUARTER
SouthWest proceeded to outscore the Knights 14-7 in the fourth quarter on Lewis’ TD aerial of 12 and 21 yards to Porter, giving him three TD grabs for the night.
“It’s always my vision for SouthWest Edgecombe football — whether we are up by 40 or down by 40 — to win the fourth quarter,” Cobb said. “They gave everything they had; you can’t ask any more.”
“Great atmosphere,” Lewis described his SouthWest farewell. “We didn’t play as hard as we could. But we had a great second half and I’m proud of all of them.”
“Winning the second half means a lot,” Smith declared. “I got to thinking about it in the locker room that this might be my last game. I had to turn it up tonight. I haven’t cried in two years, but I started crying. I really love football.”