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Junior Josh Avery learned Wednesday or Thursday he would be the starting quarterback for last Friday night’s regular-season finale with senior Jaelynn Melton sidelined with a knee injury.
The assignment came against none other than archrival Hunt as the Golden Demons attempted to repeat as Wilson County champions and secure second place in the 3-A Big East Conference.
Avery described the experience as “humbling” after directing Fike to a 31-6 victory.
“I’m always ready to step up and do my thing,” Avery remarked.
Noted head coach Tom Nelson: “Josh did a good job of running the offense.”
What Avery did was connect on 10 of 17 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown and rush nine times for 49 yards. His option runs set up a late Fike field goal.
“We were rocky at first,” Avery reviewed. “But we got it back together and played like we can.”
Arguably, Avery committed his most noticeable mistake when he threw an interception to squelch Fike’s first possession of the second half. However, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior didn’t allow the turnover to cause him to become tentative.
“That happens,” Avery reasoned. “I had to bounce back. The team didn’t deserve to get hurt by my mistake.”
How did Avery rate his performance?
“I played good with tremendous help,” he responded. “I give credit to my line, running backs and receivers for making plays and putting themselves in the right places. The defense stepped up big.
“We did good. We just need to carry that into the playoffs and make a deep run.”
BUNCH OF EXCUSES
Fike’s first-half performance anything but pleased Nelson.
The Demons’ head coach cited numerous distractions, including the absence of Melton, leading rusher Cody Cooper-Speight being sidelined much of the game with an injury and numerous other players being banged up.
“I wish we had played better,” Nelson reviewed. “The injury bug mounted on us. It looked like a medic tent over there.
“There’s a bunch of excuses, but we didn’t play well enough the first half. And for the second straight week, we came out and threw an interception to begin the second half. The defense bent but didn’t break.”
Nelson was also careful to point out that Fike’s performance was also affected by a Hunt team that played well.
Credit the Hunt defense for an effective job in slowing Fike’s spread running attack. The Demons didn’t reach 100 yards rushing until the closing minutes.
Prominent in the Warriors scheme, said second-year head coach Keith Byrum, was one-on-one responsibility.
“As long as everyone did their job on their player, we did OK,” Byrum commented. “But when somebody didn’t do the job, we had problems. We really, really depended on each person doing his job.”
Hunt was repeatedly frustrated early by missed opportunities. Byrum admitted starting well had drawn repeated emphasis during the practice week.
“In the second half, we just wasted opportunities,” he added. “Turnovers and special teams (problems) have the potential to squeeze the life out of you and shift momentum around.”
Frustration dominated the countenance of 6-1, 240-pound junior Christian Phaby, a defensive standout for the Warriors.
“We both had a lot of opportunities,” he expressed, “and our defense did really good until the fourth quarter.The offense couldn’t capitalize. It’s bad losing to your rival (for third time in last five seasons).”
The Warriors could not shake a season-long malady of a struggling start.
“We are able to finish but not able to start off,” Phaby said. “The offense could not capitalize and simple mistakes hurt us on defense. But those mistakes can be fixed. We have always been able to play our best the fourth quarter.
“I love this team and the coaches but, next year, we need to come out harder and stronger.”
BRUINS SWITCH IT UP
The return of senior quarterback Sean Jones from a foot injury certainly didn’t hurt Beddingfield High in its quest to recapture a promising running game.
Jones, sophomore Jalil Hutcherson and senior Marcus Parker give Beddingfield a three-headed monster that can punish defenses up the middle or gain the edge.
But what was one of the biggest keys in Friday’s 10-7 victory over SouthWest Edgecombe that clinched a share of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title? It was simple changes along the offensive line.
“We made some big changes since the Nash Central game,” first-year Beddingfield head coach James Ward said. “And it’s meant the world for us. We had to get back learning how to play with Sean back in there again. “We’ve got that 11 (Parker), that 3 (Hutcherson) and then that 1 (Jones) back there, you better bring your pads. Because them boys are running the ball!”
Specifically, Beddingfield re-inserted senior Daryl Collins back into the front five at a guard spot. Collins started as a junior, but Ward said that Collins decided to take up marathon running. The result was a 60-pound weight loss to bring Collins down to 207 pounds.
As such, Beddingfield’s staff was unsure if the offensive line would be a suitable spot for him. But beginning with the Farmville Central game, Ward and his fellow coaches opted to go with the agile approach at one of the guard spots.
Throw in sophomore Malik Davis moving from tight end to left tackle and junior Willie Bridgers handling the snapping duties at center, and a Beddingfield offense that produced 259 yards rushing surfaced.
SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb certainly noticed the differences in this Beddingfield team compared to previous editions. The Bruins were able to take possession after a potential game-tying field goal missed from 24 yards and grind away the remaining 3:50 with seven runs before going to a pair of kneeldowns.
“They have done themselves much favor with the way (Ward) has used them schematically,” Cobb said.
TAKE THE THREE
In the second quarter, Beddingfield trailed 7-3 when a fourth-and-4 situation presented itself from the Cougars’ 21-yard line. Despite suggestions to go for it for the second time in as many drives, Ward trotted out senior kicker Jose Cabrera to try a 38-yard field goal. Cabrera, who connected from 26 yards in the opening quarter, had plenty of distance. But the attempt was wide left.
Nevertheless, Ward was content scrapping and clawing for every point he could get.
“Coach (running backs coach Josh) Crowell was in my ear on that second one saying ‘Coach, it’s fourth and 4,’ “I said, so? That kid can kick 45. He knocked down a 43 in pregame. I had my mind made up. I told (Crowell) that in championship ballgames, you’ve got to take those three.”
The Bruins had failed to pick up a fourth-and-3 on their previous drive, with Jones getting stopped by SouthWest senior middle linebacker Michael Wiggins for a 1-yard gain.
PLAYERS FIT DEFENSIVE SCHEME
No scheme will work without adequate personnel. Before making the move to offensive coordinator in the final season of Tyrone Johnson, Ward directed the Bruins’ defense.
The last time Ward faced SouthWest as a defensive coordinator, he trotted out the same look that the Bruins used to hold the Cougars to 85 yards rushing. But when the Bruins lost Demonte Cherry to a knee injury, it threw all those plans out the window.
“We just didn’t have any more Jimmie’s and Joe’s to go in his place,” Ward said. “I felt real good about the game plan. We had five different new looks that we were going to put out tonight. And we only pulled out two of them. That was good for us, and the kids did a good job of going back and forth.
Along with Parker, junior outside linebackers Zion Hinnant and Zach Adams were instrumental in bottling up the Southwest run game. Taking the 6-5, 310-pound frame of senior Thomas Williford from offensive tackle to the middle of the defensive line instantly clogged up running lanes.
JONES FINDS A HOME
Grabbing a share of a conference championship ranked as a satisfying experience for Jones, the Hunt transfer who came to Beddingfield for academic reasons.
“Honestly, it’s amazing,” Jones said. “It’s a lifetime experience. I will never forget it, because I know how a lot of teams, we all want to be better than one another. We all fight, we want to go to the championship and go to the end. But with the team we’ve got, we really want it. We give everything in practice, we give it in the weight room, we give it in the classroom. We give everything all we’ve got. Our goal is to go to the state championship.”
Thus, Jones believes he found a suitable home for his final year of high school football.
“I believe I came to a team where it’s more love and brotherhood,” Jones said. “It’s a very dominant, very good team. It’s me. It’s my home. This is where I should be. In my opinion, this is where I should be. I feel comfortable.”
The success of 2016 spurred Community Christian hopes that its team could contend for the North Carolina High School Independent Schools Athletic Association eight-player football championship in 2017.
But the Cyclones dropped three of their last four games, ending their season in the state semifinals (four teams advanced into the playoffs) and posting a 3-6 record.
The end came last Friday night with a 36-26 road loss to Northeast Academy-Hobgood Academy, a combined team from two schools. The Cyclones trailed only 14-12 at halftime and remained two points down (22-20) after three quarters.
Senior Avery Winstead rushed for 169 yards on 22 carries and junior Chandler Conway added 62 yards on nine rushes.
Conway, the quarterback, completed 6 of 20 passes for 73 yards and a TD.
But the Cyclones’ culprits were two turnovers and 16 penalties for 150 yards.
For the season, Winstead led the running game with 1,108 yards and 13 touchdowns on 176 carries. Conway added 516 yards and five TDs on 63 rushes. Junior Bunn managed 355 yards and four TDs on 36 carries, followed by freshman Gavin Wiley with 277 yards and five TDs on 52 rushes.
Conway was accurate on 43 of 83 passes for 606 yards and 11 TDs. He threw five interceptions. The leading receiver was senior Austin Conway with 399 yards and nine TDs on 33 catches.
Junior Jordan Allen scored nine conversions and led CCS with two interceptions. Bunn was the leading tackler with 94 solos among his total of 138.
But the season fell below expectations.
“Our season came to an end somewhat like the rest of the season — two turnovers and 16 penalties for 150 yards,” head coach Andy Jackson observed. “We put too many obstacles in front of us to overcome.
“Very disappointing is all I can say.”