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BETWEEN FRIDAYS NOTEBOOK: Young Bruins look to build on 2017 season

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The 2017 season for the Beddingfield High varsity football team came tumbling down with a 56-0 loss at home against Wallace-Rose Hill last Friday evening in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A playoffs.

First-year head coach James Ward termed his Bruins being shut out for the first time this season and causing the clock to run continuously in the second half as the result of falling behind 42-0 a painful life-learning lesson.

Forgotten during the nightmarish evening was the fact Beddingfield posted an 8-5 record, shared the Eastern Plains Conference championship and drew the No. 4 seed in the East Region.

“As a whole, we did an awesome job,” he reviewed. “We had good kids; they didn’t get into trouble; and this season was the first time I’ve been around football where everybody contributed. We worked our butts off __ for real. We definitely overachieved.”

Ward assures Beddingfield is blessed with talent, but describes it as “young and still learning to play.”

The Bruins, in their head coach’s opinion, spent the first half of the season learning their identity.

“We made three changes after the Nash Central game that turned out big for us,” Ward explained.

“We just didn’t have enough Jimmys and Joes to play with (Wallace-Rose Hill).”

GOOD, REALLY GOOD

Ward scouted the Bulldogs when they ousted Ayden-Grifton, 42-3, in the opening round.

“In comparing them, I didn’t think they were as good as Nash Central (defeated Beddingfield in nonconference action,” he reported. “They reminded me of the Washington team of the year before (2015) that played for the state championship. But I thought Washington’s defense was better.

“I really felt good about our chances. I knew we had to tackle because those jokers can run. We had people in place, but didn’t make plays.

“They’re good, really good.”

HOW GOOD WAS W-RH?

“Until Wallace-Rose Hill came into 2-A, we always said that you had to go through Elizabeth City Northeastern to play for the state championship,” Ward commented.

“Now, you have to look at Wallace-Rose Hill; you have to add Wallace-Rose Hill to the equation.”

Beddingfield’s head coach hailed the Bulldogs’ No. 3 (senior Javonte Williams) the best player he has seen since Tarboro’s Todd Gurley, who is now playing in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams. He contended Williams and No. 21 (senior Desmond Newkirk) were superior to any athletes to be found currently at Beddingfield, Fike or Hunt.

“And No. 42 (senior defensive end Xavier Murray) destroyed us,” Ward added. “He destroyed everybody.”

Continued Ward: “It seemed like they were playing with the concept they had something to prove. They had something to play for like I have not seen all year.”

BEDDINGFIELD’S JOB

The Bruins learn more about Wallace-Rose Hill in the spring whey they compete in the sport of track.

Regardless, Beddingfield understands it must elevate its program.

Ward is encouraged nine offensive and eight defensive starters return.

But critical, he emphasizes, is everyone being on the same page in philosophy and system structure from varsity to junior varsity to middle school to youth teams.

In his postgame comments, Ward urged Bruins’ players and parents to “take a look at them and keep a vivid picture in your mind. It’s where we have got to get. It’s a tradition; it’s a program.”

He added: “Our goal is to see Wallace-Rose Hill again; that’s what we’re trying for.”

LOSE 11 SENIORS

Eleven seniors played their final game for Beddingfield last Friday night.

Departing are Sean Jones Jr., Mitchell McCoy, Dorrell Farmer, Marcus Parker, Aaron Bland, Jose Cabrera, Mazin Saleh, Daryl Collins, Rico Harris, Thomas Williford and Jarvis McNeil.

“It’s tough to lose like that in your last game,” remarked Parker, a captain.

“I don’t think we were intimidated. I know I wasn’t scared. I played as hard as I could every play like the score was 0-0 from start to finish.

“You just have to move on. Next level, here I come.”

JUST THE GATEKEEPER

Before NCHSAA realignment resulted in Wallace-Rose Hill being elevated to the 2-A East Central Conference this season, the Bulldogs captured 1-AA state championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Wallace-Rose Hill reigned as a state champion five of the previous eight seasons.

In 2017, Kevin Motsinger stepped in as the new head coach.

Motsinger noted the Bulldogs not only lost their head coach from last season but 20-plus seniors. They were stepping from 1-A to 2-A.

Motsinger insists he’s not the head coach but merely the gatekeeper. He mentions the late Jack Holley “is still the head coach.” Holley’s offensive system still moves the Bulldogs.

“Everybody doubted how Wallace-Rose Hill was going to be,” Motsinger declared. “Retribution may be coming _ but not this year.”

AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED

Fike traveled to Elon on Friday to take on unbeaten Western Alamance, the Mid-State Conference champion and top seed in the 3-A East Region, and the Warriors lived up to their billing.

Western Alamance’s defense and special teams set up its spread offense, which scored the first 42 points of the game on the way to a 45-14 romp.

Fike head coach Tom Nelson said the Warriors were as good as he expected them to be.

“I think we knew exactly what we were getting in for,” he said. “We knew they were going to be good up front, their quarterback was good and they had a good running back. We just had trouble stopping it.”

The Warriors (13-0) had eight ball carriers total 251 yards but none ran for more than 68. Senior quarterback Christian Daniels completed 8-of-14 pass attempts for 89 yards and a touchdown. He threw one interception that Fike turned into a long drive that ended when Western Alamance picked off a pass inside the 30-yard line.

Fike also had a fumble that the Warriors’ Jake Christman returned 45 yards to set up a score.

Offensively, Nelson groaned, Fike didn’t maximum its chances in its read-option attack.

“We moved the ball several times,” he said. “We did not take advantage of our opportunities because we had some.”

Senior Justin Daniels managed to run for 100 yards, including a nine-yard TD run in the third quarter for Fike’s first score. William Kent had a 35-yard punt-return TD in the fourth quarter.

EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS

The Demons finished 9-4 and second in the Big East Conference, which would have been a rosy expectation back in August.

“I think we definitely exceeded expectations,” Nelson said. “If you look at our four losses, I wish we could have taken back the Kinston game because we could have won that game.”

Indeed, the Demons had plenty of chances to win that week 3 game the Vikings, who finished 9-3, won 21-18 at Fike. But Nelson was quick to point out that the other three teams to beat Fike are all playing next week and two — Clayton and Western Alamance — are still undefeated. The other, Southern Nash, has just one loss and that came against the top 4-A team in the state, Wake Forest.

“All in all, we didn’t lose to any scrubs,” Nelson said.

High points in the 2017 season included beating rivals Hunt and Beddingfield to win the Wilson County Championship, defeating Rocky Mount for the first time since 2013 and winning the first-round playoff game against Triton.

More importantly, Nelson said, the 2017 Demons were joy to coach.

“There’s some seasons that you are not upset when it is over and this is not the case,” he said. “This group has been awesome. They practiced hard every day. They got along. They are pleasant kids to be around and that was the biggest thing.

“That is really what it’s all about and this year we had some really good times.”

WASN’T THE PLAN

Southern Nash was aggressive from the opening kickoff Friday night in its 63-20 win over Eastern Alamance in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.

But that aggression didn’t involve a planned onside kick to open the game.

That’s what it looked like when junior kicker Carlos Garcia came out and squibbed an offering along the ground on the game’s opening kickoff. The Firebirds did not recover.

But fortunately for Southern Nash in this instance, the play didn’t matter. A member of the Firebirds kicking team was offsides, necessitating a re-kick. The second attempt was more conventional, and Southern Nash’s defense held the Eagles to a missed field-goal attempt.

“That was not what we were supposed to do,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “That little kicker drives me crazy! But I love him. It was supposed to be a short pooch, and he just said, ‘I just slipped.’

“And then the next one was supposed to be deep towards me, and for some reason, he couldn’t get it deep. He does a good job, and that’s a weapon. Whenever you can get a guy to place the ball wherever you want on the field, that puts a lot of pressure on the kickoff return team.”

CHANGING THE CULTURE

Friday’s 63-20 win over Western Alamance raised Southern Nash’s record to 12-1 — the same mark it finished the 2016 with after a loss in the second round of the 3-A playoffs to Rocky Mount. The Firebirds haven’t had a losing season since 2008 and are now 86-29 since the string of nine straight winning seasons began in 2009 with an 11-4 record, the year Southern Nash last appeared in a regional championship game.

“It’s just nice to see all the hard work,” Foster said. “Not just from this year or the year past, but for 28 years. People have no idea of what we’ve tried to do here, to change things and change the mentality. It’s not been easy. And to have my guys back that played for me and Robbie’s (defensive coordinator Kennedy) been with me 20 years. It’s like a family. We take what we do seriously, and it’s a lot like Eastern Alamance. I think a lot of coach (John) Kirby and what they do. They do things right. We were just fortunate tonight to come out on top.”

GETTING THE EDGE

With a free safety leading the Eastern Alamance defense in tackles in Brian Richardson, the Eagles were primed to be a decent target against a potent running attack.

Southern Nash and the double-wing were happy to oblige.

Junior Zonovan Knight rushed 14 times for 231 yards and a score, while senior Kendrick Bell finished with 124 yards on 20 carries to go along with five TDs.

Knight’s light feet and juke moves gave Eastern Alamance fits, as the first defender rarely brought Knight down. He did a lot of damage particularly on the edge off jet sweeps as Southern Nash routinely sealed the corner for him. Bell was adept at springing counter plays behind a pulling guard.

“It’s just the same as usual,” Knight said. “They told me to run the jet and they just said follow your blockers. And that’s what I do.”

Similar to his coach, Knight assured the Firebirds aren’t satisfied with a Big East Conference title and an appearance in the third round for the first time since 2009.

“The goal is to get a state championship,” he said of next Friday’s game at Havelock. “We’re going to bring the same thing we’ve brought all season.”

As for Bell, Foster said he had no idea his senior runner had racked up five TDs until he was told after the game.

“What’s so crazy is I didn’t even know that,” Foster said. “You’ve got to be unselfish with what we do, and our guys know it when they get here. Our quarterback blocks. It’s just different. It’s what our kids believe in.”

DEFENSE HOLDS FIRM

Against the Eastern Alamance offense, Southern Nash’s first-string defense could only be held liable for one TD in the 62-20 win.

Quarterback Hayden Mann, a James Madison commit, was held to 8 of 19 passing for 107 yards and an interception. He was held without a rushing or passing score after entering play responsible for 34 total TDs.

Eastern Alamance picked up its first TD largely off a blocked punt that was returned to the Southern Nash 2-yard line.

The Eagles converted a fourth down and punched the ball in before halftime on an 11-play drive against the first stringers, but the Firebirds went into halftime with a 35-12 cushion.

With the running clock well underway, Tre Boseman ripped off a 73-yard against the Southern Nash backups to account for the final margin. Boseman scored all three Eastern Alamance TDs and ran for 121 yards.

RAMS MISS KEY PLAYERS

Greene Central’s chances to pull an upset and knock off No. 2 seed East Bladen in the second round of the 2-A playoffs Friday were dealt twin setbacks well before kickoff Friday night.

Senior running back Willie Edwards, who has run for more than 1,600 yards and 29 TDs this season, and senior safety Tyreke Speight were both unable to play. The No. 10-seed Rams hung with the Eagles for the better part of the first quarter but East Bladen opened up a 42-21 halftime lead on the way to a 68-28 runaway win.

“We needed all hands on deck for a team like that and we just didn’t have it,” said Greene Central head coach Allen Wooten.

Edwards left the game with concussion-like symptoms in the Rams’ first-round win over Kinston the previous week. Wooten said that he started experiencing dizziness Wednesday and had to re-enter concussion protocol from beginning. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound college prospect didn’t practice all week.

Meanwhile, Speight, the Rams’ top defender and leader, had a high-ankle sprain was also sidelined all week.

Despite two of his best players unable to practice or play, Wooten said the rest of the team was unable to make the adjustment.

“It was a mental effect more than anything,” Wooten said. “We got so satisfied with that win over Kinston last week and we didn’t have a good week of practice.”

HIGH-POWERED OFFENSE

Despite some inconsistent play at times, Wooten pronounced the 2017 season, his fifth at Greene Central, a success. The Rams finished 8-5 and won their first playoff game under Wooten. A 31-19 victory over Ayden-Grifton to conclude the regular season and the playoff win at Kinston were among the highlights.

“This team didn’t have the talent that some of the teams we’ve had in the past but they’ve worked and fought hard,” Wooten said.

The Rams offense, under the direction of senior quarterback Jackson Batchelor, was especially prolific. Greene Central averaged more than 31 points and 385 yards of offense and led the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference in scoring and yardage. Batchelor, Edwards and Taboris Bynum were the passing, rushing and receiving leaders, respectively, among players in The Wilson Times readership area at the end of the regular season.

However, all three of those players are seniors, which means Wooten and his staff will have many spots to fill. Wooten said that junior A.J. Dupree will move into Edwards’ spot but “we have to figure out the quarterback situation.”

The good news is that the defense, which was inconsistent at times, has several returning players on the line, as well as junior linebacker Jared Fields.

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