Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.
Friday night’s game-ending Hunt-Beddingfield High varsity football scene in Beddingfield’s stadium still lingers.
Trailing 28-26, the Bruins have time enough for one more play. Quarterback Sean Jones Jr. completes a pass to Aaron Bland. Bland, a speedster, darts and weaves his way 50-plus yards into the end zone.
Beddingfield players are sprinting along their sideline, delirious they had managed to salvage a victory in the county rivalry after squandering a 26-0 lead.
But then came a roar from the other side of the playing surface.
The Bruins stood in disbelief. Euphoria turned to anger and dejection.
A flag was spotted near the 25-yard line. The infraction — blocking in the back —was against Beddingfield.
Thus, the penalty negated the TD and ended the game. It was the jubilant Warriors’ turn to celebrate the 28-26 victory.
The outcome boosted Hunt’s margin in the 40-year-old series against Beddingfield to 33-9 and assured that the 2017 Wilson County Championship will be decided outright when the Warriors welcome Fike in the regular-season finale in November.
“I was shocked and relieved,” second-year Hunt head coach Keith Bryum expressed his reaction. “I was thrilled but also upset that there had to be a big comeback on our part. But it was a great football game.”
Noted first-year Beddingfield head coach James Ward: “A lot we did wrong gave them an opportunity to be in that situation. It’s a judgment call and we’ve got to live with it.
“Friday night was a lifetime lesson. But that’s a tough one, very tough.”
As might be expected, the head coaches offered different versions of the final play and Bryum was quick to admit: “I’m biased.”
Byrum was also perturbed the play occurred, suggesting his defense should have made a play around midfield.
Hunt’s head coach noted the infraction occurred at the 23-yard line and his defensive player was blocked from behind.
“He was closing,” Byrum described, “and was going to have a good opportunity to make a stop. He had already made plays similar to that twice in the game.”
SAW FLAG THROWN
Ward insisted he was celebrating with his players when the flag was thrown.
“I was standing in the middle of the field and basically saw the flag drop,” he continued. “(Bland) had already crossed the goal line.
“The video ... we tell the kids the camera doesn’t lie. (The Hunt player) was blocked in his chest and not his back. If he had been blocked in the back, he would have fell on his face. He fell on his back.”
Regarding the play, Ward pointed out that Bland is a regional track champ in a sprint event.
“I know about that kid,” he declared, “and if he got into the open field, they weren’t going to catch him.”
In reviewing the comeback, Byrum said:”A lot of things happened in the first half and we realized most of them were self-inflicted. We were able to rally them at halftime and get them back to believing. Once you get to believing, all kinds of crazy things can happen.”
Still, the Bruins expanded a 19-0 halftime margin to 26-0 and Hunt squandered back-to-back threats because of an interception and a fumble
“But we started moving the ball and you could tell the confidence was building and building,” Byrum reasoned. “We felt pretty good about what we could do defensively. We cut (the little mistakes) out and the defense continued to play well.”
Momentum and adrenaline kicked in.
“We felt like, even though we were losing, we were fresher,” Byrum reasoned. “At one stretch in the second half, we played the best football we’ve played all year.
“When the score got around 26-14, the kids really believed they could pull it off. And when we tied it up, it was anybody’s game.”
Sophomore Tiquez Taylor, junior Isaiah Watson, junior quarterback Andrew Jones, junior wide receiver Jihren Strickland and senior punter Deshawn Jackson played huge Hunt roles.
Byrum observed that Watson, recovering from a broken hand, was playing so well defensively that Taylor could be utilized exclusively at tailback.
PUNT TEAM HAILED
“Tiquez had a great night at tailback (135 rushing yards and two TDs and a 48-yard TD pass reception),” Byrum said. “The punt team played great and Deshawn did a great job of changing field position (averaging 36.2 yards on five punts).
“Jihren is a tough kid. He’s got a niche for catching short passes and taking them a long way.”
Jones took over at quarterback in the second half, completed 6 of 9 passes for 113 yards and a TD and sneaked a yard for the tying TD.
“One of the best things he did,” Byrum commended, “was that he was excited to come in there at halftime. He played well. He was careful with the football and was a good presence in the huddle.”
After breaking the 26-26 tie by virtue of the safety, Hunt’s next concern was recovering the onside kickoff. Strickland handled that task and the Warriors’ next issue was attempting to exhaust the final minute and 55 seconds.
Hunt’s approach, Byrum admits, was affected by Beddingfield’s punting misfortune that resulted in the safety.
“We had to figure out the safest way to burn up as much time as we possibly could,” Byrum explained. “And we wanted to make sure we didn’t have a botched exchange. We never considered punting.”
Thus, the Warriors took a knee on four downs and Beddingfield utilized its final time-out to reclaim possession with some 20 seconds remaining.
Beddingfield’s Ward credited punter Rio Montes with responding as coached when he chased down the errant snap from center and, at the goal line, kicked the football out of the end zone. The result was the go-ahead safety for Hunt.
“We still had an opportunity to win the football game with him doing what he did,” Ward emphasized.
Not only were the Bruins dealt a crushing loss but they took a physical hit.
The coaching staff worries three key defenders will not be available Friday night when Beddingfield welcomes Jacksonville Northside.
Both Tacoby Coleman and Willie Bridgers, who turned in an outstanding performance, are doubtful because of knee injuries The status of 320-pound tackle Daymon Kardesogla is uncertain because of concussion protocol.
And the status of senior two-way standout and captain Marcus Parker is anything but certain.
Parker was ejected in the opening quarter because of targeting.
If the ejection stands, Parker will not be available for Friday night’s game.
If his punishment is downgraded to disqualification, Parker will be available Friday evening. The Bruins expect a decision within the next couple of days.
The Bruins will not realize their goal of winning the Wilson County champion after losing to the “team over there” (Fike) and the “team out there” (Hunt).
“But all our other goals are intact,” Ward declared. “Right now in Bruin land, we’ve got to stop beating ourselves.
“This was just a tough one. It’s tough to swallow and hard to explain.”
Confidence and energy is up for a Hunt team that will be sorely in need of any available assistance when it welcomes 3-A powerhouse Havelock on Friday night.
Byrum doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the Warriors must play a perfect game to have a shot.
But he started the week commending the biggest successful comeback he has witnessed by a Hunt team.
“I have been here almost 20 years and the closest thing to this was in 2004 — when we went to Triton,” he reflected. “We got ourselves in a big hole, but won the game when, at the end, we stopped them at the 1-yard line. That proved to be the year we played for the state championship. Who knows what would have been the result if we had lost that game?
“Last Friday night just proves that, if you don’t quit. you can make special things happen and memories you don’t forget. This game is going to be remembered for a long time.”
EFFORT BETTER THAN EXECUTION
Fike entered Friday’s nonconference game at Clayton with a 3-1 record, just four points from being a perfect 4-0, but all that was moot after the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference Comets drilled the Golden Demons 28-10.
Fike of the 3-A Big East Conference managed just 170 yards of offense and gave up 371 yards to Clayton, with 246 coming through the air. The Comets improved to 5-0, albeit by their smallest margin of victory.
“They were a really good football team, first off,” Demons head coach Tom Nelson said. “We took the opening kickoff and drove it down the field and weren’t able to get it in and had to settle for a field goal. We had a couple of breakdowns defensively and they scored. We weren’t able to get much going offensively and move the football.”
The Comets, who were in the 4-A ranks until NCHSAA realignment earlier this year, gave Fike little margin for error.
“We needed to be able to sustain some more drives offensively,” Nelson said. “After their first touchdown, we came back and thew a pick and put our defense back on the field and that’s one thing you can’t do.”
Nelson said that while execution was a problem Friday, attitude and effort were not.
“I think our effort for four quarters was good,” he said. “I think there was a time we could have hung our heads but the kids hung around and fought and I think that’s going to help us moving forward.”
Fike will play another road game at a Greater Neuse River opponent this Friday as the Demons travel to Erwin to face Triton, now 3-1 after beating West Johnston 49-28 on Friday.
STILL 2 AT QB
Senior quarterback Jaelynn Melton exited Friday’s game with a foot injury, although Nelson said the move was more precautionary than anything else. The Demons had that luxury because of junior backup quarterback Josh Avery, who has played a significant number of snaps this season. Avery scored Fike’s only touchdown on a fourth-quarter scamper.
Nelson said that Melton will be back this week but it’s still an open competition since both QBs are playing well.
“We still want it to be a weekly competition because they are really close,” said Nelson, who added that while Melton can play another offensive position while Avery is under center, he has not done that so far this season.
OFFENSE IN PROGRESS
In Fike’s read-option offense, the quarterback is the key to who gets the ball. Nelson said that decision-making is something both players need to continue to develop.
“I think we’ve still got a ways to go. In our offense we’ve got decisions to make and we’ve got to make good decisions,” said Nelson.
The Fike head coach, however, is pleased with his offensive line’s play.
“Our line has really been a bright spot. They’ve really come along,” he said of the unit consisting of center Zavion Taylor-Best, guards John Walker and Jamali Holmes and tackles Lewis Pearce and A.J. Gunter.
CAN YOU SPARE A GAME?
Whether it’s scheduling to new North Carolina High School Athletic Association parameters for playoff seeding, or just filling out the dance card that is the two-year scheduling contract in high school football, the kabuki dances that surround the appearance of new opponents in the nonconference schedule are always interesting.
But sometimes, there isn’t a need for complexity.
In the case of Southern Nash and Wake Forest, the existence of a prior relationship helped produce the two-year rotation between the Firebirds and Wake Forest, defending North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-AA champions.
Wake Forest, which was placed in the new Northern Athletic Conference with Wake Forest Heritage, Knightdale, Corinth Holders, Rolesville and Wakefield, had to find an extra nonconference game to fill out its schedule. But as the most alpha of the alpha dogs that reside at the top of the NCHSAA food chain, how many teams are lining up to play the Cougars?
In that case, it never hurts to know a familiar face.
“This year, switching up the conferences, we only have five conference games,” Wake Forest head coach Reggie Lucas explained. “So we had to find a sixth nonconference game. It just happened to match up. This week was open for both of us. Brian and I went to the same school, Lenoir-Rhyne University. We knew each other, so it was kind of fun to play against a familiar guy.”
Wake Forest won its 21st straight game, including its 48th in the last 50.
CHANCES WERE THERE
The 35-0 final will not reflect it, but there were windows for Southern Nash to take the emotional flow of the football game in another direction early. Southern Nash’s defense reached fourth down on both its first two possessions, despite dealing with short fields. Wake Forest used an early long kickoff return to start its opening drive at the Southern Nash 29, but two runs and a sack by senior Na’sheen Cooley brought up fourth down.
Wake Forest stayed on the field for a possession play, running a play-action fake out of its wing-T. Quarterback Chris James threw to an open Marquis Dunn, but Southern Nash sophomore Quinton Cooley recovered to contest the pass, appearing to knock it away. Dunn even pounded the turf in frustration, believing he had dropped the football.
Yet the back judge ruled that Dunn had held on long enough for a touchdown, and the Cougars were on the board. A three-and-out from Southern Nash’s offense produced a drive start from the 49 for Wake Forest, who reached the Firebirds’ 37 before another fourth down arrived. The punting team came out, but it wasn’t to kick it away. Instead, senior running back Devon Lawrence kept and darted up the sideline, getting into the end zone. Indeed, two fourth-down plays went horribly for the Firebirds as they trailed 14-0 with just 5:55 elapsed. As Southern Nash returned to the sideline for the PAT, defensive coordinator Robbie Kennedy reminded his players that the trickery on special teams was something that had been addressed that week in practice.
“But I’m glad we played them,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster reflected. “And I thought it would be a little closer. In some respects it was, I think. They know they’ve been in a game. I don’t have no doubt about that.”
Yet when it came time to establish a flow in hostile territory, the Cougars went to what worked.
“We work on those things in practice,” Lucas said. “Obviously, the pass play is in our playbook. The fake punt, we work on stuff every week. We see what we can do. I thought it was a good time to do it, and it was able to work for us.”
Southern Nash had two trips inside the Wake Forest 20-yard line, but couldn’t produce points on either possession.
Trailing 14-0, the Firebirds had their first trip thwarted with the aid of a holding call and an intentional grounding flag.
“We can’t have those holding calls when we get there,” Foster said. “I don’t know if it happened both times or one time (actually only once), but that hurt us. We’ll get there. I think it was a good experience. I’m proud of the guys.”
With the score 21-0 in the third, Southern Nash faced fourth-and-3, but a jet sweep to junior Zonovan Knight lost four yards.
The Firebirds held true to their double-wing offense against a powerful opponent, for better or for worse.
“But that’s the way we play,” Foster said. “I know it frustrates people and sometimes it’s ugly, but we had our chances.”
Southern’s longest gain from scrimmage was 49 yards on a Knight dash off the left side. He appeared to have a chance to score, but was dragged down at the Wake Forest 29. The Firebirds evaded a disaster after their first offensive play of the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Lorenzo Sessoms had to chase a fumble for a loss of 16 yards, but got it back and then some with a quick hitch pass to Darius Edmondson on the perimeter. The catch and run was all Edmonson, making a pair of Wake Forest defenders miss and gaining 38 yards to move the chains. However, the drive soon stalled.
FIREBIRDS PLAY RUN WELL
Holes started to open up by the midpoint of the fourth quarter, but the Southern Nash defense came out and played the Wake Forest wing-T in credible fashion from first through third down.
At halftime, Southern Nash had deadlocked the Cougars in rushing yards at 108, while Wake Forest was held to a pair of three-and-outs while being held scoreless in the third quarter.
“We knew that they were going to be quick and tough,” Lucas said of the Firebirds. “We knew running on the edge was going to be tough. I expected a tough fight from their defense. That’s what we got, and we were able to use other ways to score.”
Lucas noted that his Cougars and Southern Nash employ similar styles when facing competition in their peer groups.
“I’m pretty sure they do that to other teams,” Lucas said of asserting a presence in the fourth quarter. “We run the wing-T with spread a little bit, so usually in the fourth quarter, you’re wearing defenses down.”
PANTHERS ON THE PROWL
For the second straight year North Johnston is 4-1 after the fifth week of the season. The Panthers earned their fourth victory with an impressive 47-32 triumph over host C.B. Aycock in which North Johnston carved up the Golden Falcons defense for 382 yards and seven TDs.
Particularly impressive was the performance of senior quarterback Trey Whitley, who threw five touchdown passes as part of his 10-of-20 showing for 265 yards to go with a team-high 94 yards on the ground that included another TD. Five different players caught passes with Kenneth Lee and Travis Riba each hauling in a pair of scoring tosses.
North Johnston head coach Jon Riba credited maturity and hard work for the performance of a receiving corps that had little varsity experience entering this season.
“A lot of the guys weren’t starters at receiver last year,” he said. “A few were JV starters the year before but they went in the weight room and got better.”
Riba, who directed the Panthers to an overall 7-5 mark and a tie for second place in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference in his first season as head coach a year ago, has overseen a slow change in the culture in Kenly, where winning seasons have been few and far between.
“It’s a good bunch of kids,” he said. “I guess that’s all I can really ask of these kids is to do their best and let the chips fall where they may.”
Riba cited an increase in numbers, which means that just two sophomores are on the varsity roster, which wasn’t the case when he joined the staff of his predecessor at North Johnston, Ashley Ennis, prior to the 2014 season.
“Now we’ve got juniors and seniors playing,” he said.
COUGARS FACE LEARNING CURVE
The season had started well for SouthWest Edgecombe with three straight wins and then an early open week before what is always the biggest game on the Cougars’ regular-season schedule — a date against archrival Tarboro.
But the good times ended for the Cougars in Friday’s renewal of “The Function at the Junction” at SouthWest as Tarboro, ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press 1-A poll, lived up to its billing with a 28-0 shutout win.
“It certainly was a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against one of the best teams in eastern North Carolina this year,” Cougars head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “Defensively, we played well at times and others, we didn’t play so well. Offensively, we met a brick wall.”
SouthWest managed just six first downs and 85 yards on offense.
“That Tarboro defense is just about as good as any I’ve seen in high school football,” Cobb assured.
But, he continued, that playing Tarboro is always a learning experience based on the way the offenses and defenses match up.
“Good football teams learn from a loss like this and go out with a fire the next Friday night,” he said.
The Cougars have been without starting quarterback Tre Williams, who sustained an arm injury during the preseason Tarboro Jamboree, and will continue to do so indefinitely. Junior Jayden Lewis has filled in admirably but, given all the time Williams spent at the position last season, over the spring and summer and during preseason practice, there has been a lot of catching up to do.
Still, Cobb is pleased with how his team has performed as it prepares to defend its 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title, last Friday notwithstanding.
“We know we’ve got some getting better to do and we started working on that today,” he said.
RANKINGS ARE OUT
The first rankings of the season were released by MaxPreps.com, the NCHSAA’s online partner, after the week 5 games were done. Typically, the computer-generated rankings wouldn’t mean very much but this season, they mean almost everything. The NCHSAA approved in May a pilot program to seed playoff teams based on their MaxPreps rankings. That means teams can see where they stand all season, either inside the 64-team playoff bubble or outside trying to get in.
Five of the eight Times readership-area teams were ranked in the top 64 in their respective classifications. Southern Nash had the highest ranking at No. 8 in the 3-A list while Fike was 56th. In the 2-A rankings, SouthWest Edgecombe is No. 19, Greene Central is 33rd and North Johnston is 63rd.
Even with the extra importance of the rankings, they aren’t getting the attention Fike’s Nelson.
“We don’t look at it,” he said. “We are focused on trying to beat Triton.”
For Riba, the notion that strength of schedule carries weight in the MaxPreps formula is somewhat offputting.
“The SOS and stuff like that bothers me a little bit,” he said. “Beddingfield probably has a tougher schedule than we do and deservedly so. They have to play Hunt and Fike every year.”
Riba said that under the old system, where the won-loss record determined playoff teams, his Panthers would be sitting pretty.
“If I’m sitting at 4-1 and going into EPC (in two weeks) and I’m competing in the EPC, two wins there and I’m a playoff team!” Riba said.
Even with computer-based rankings determining seeding, Riba agreed that the easiest path to the postseason hasn’t changed — just win.