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Beddingfield head coach James Ward knew his team was going to have put together one of its best efforts of the season if the Bruins wanted to play more than one game in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A football playoffs.
The Bruins, seeded No. 9 in the 2-A East Region, were more than up to the challenge as they ventured to Elizabethtown and defeated No. 8 East Bladen, 14-12. It was the first time the Eagles lost in the first round since 2002, a run that includes four Eastern finals appearances and one state championship game trip in 2008.
“Going into it, we knew we had to control the clock,” Ward said. “They’re pretty good. In 2-A football, you’re talking about a powerhouse. ... So we’re proud of the way the guys fought. We did a real good job of taking care of the ball. We only laid it on the ground one time, on the wet field. But our kids played with some fight in them, they really did.”
Beddingfield reached the nine-win plateau for the first time since 2008, but one victory that season came as a result of a forfeit by Nash Central for using ineligible players. The last time the Bruins won nine games on the field was in 2005 when they went 12-2 and reached the third round of the playoffs, also the last time they made it that far.
Beddingfield faces another big challenge if it wants to reach double-digit wins again as the Bruins are ticketed for Elizabeth City on Friday to face top-seeded and unbeaten Northeastern.
Ward and Eagles head coach Antonio Moore are good friends.
“We’re definitely not going to sneak up on them,” Ward said. “We’re up for the challenge, though. To win, you’re going to have to go on the road eventually anyway.”
The Bruins were able to play ball control at East Bladen by using a surprise ploy.
“We turned a new corner for Beddingfield,” Ward said. “We pulled out some double-tight (end) wishbone on ‘em and a little bit of power I.”
The move paid off as the Bruins rushed for 224 yards with junior Jalil Hutcherson accounting for 151 yards on 18 carries. Beddingfield also took care of the football, committing just one turnover.
Ward, who was the Bruins’ defensive coordinator for many years, used his experience to surprise the Eagles, who run a double-tight end wishbone and wing-T formation offense.
“A lot of times, what I’ve figured out, a lot of times what people run, they have a hard time stopping,” Ward said.
Beddingfield got first-half rushing touchdowns from fullback Raekwon Batts and quarterback Zion Hinnant, as well as a two-point pass from Hinnant to Devon Roesch. The Bruins then stopped East Bladen on its two-point attempt after the Eagles’ second TD in the first half. Both teams failed on extra-point kick attempts after their initial TDs.
Ward made sure to praise the seven Bruins who played both ways Friday: seniors Willie Bridgers, Daymon Kardesoglu, Tacoby Coleman, Zach Adams and Hinnant, along with Hutcherson and Batts. Junior Travon Newsome also spent most of the game on the field.
“Like I tell them, it ain’t no secret, it’s 2-A football and you’d better come ready to play,” Ward said.
The field was a pasture, Ward said, after a week of rain and a junior varsity game that had been played in the rain the previous week.
The Bruins were ready, Ward said. They practiced outside in the rain all but one day, under the lights in Bruins Stadium. Ward said that there is a faint chance the Bruins will play another game at home so there was no need to save the field.
“Our game field is real spongy right now,” he said. “Our only chance to come back home is if Goldsboro gets on a hot run and we get on a hot run.”
He and several assistant coaches bought a few pairs of shoes with screw-in cleats.
“We knew there would be a muddy field but we didn’t think it would be like that,” Ward said. “It looked just like when we played Farmville last year in the first round of the playoffs.”
FIREBIRDS D GETS IT DONE
Head coach Brian Foster was more than happy to speak glowingly of his Southern Nash defense after the Firebirds produced their first shutout of the season in Friday’s 63-0 win over C.B. Aycock in the first round of the 3-A playoffs.
Southern Nash limited the Golden Falcons to 149 yards of total offense and held CBA junior fullback Taevian Jackson, who had more than 1,500 rushing yards entering the game, to just 68 yards on 18 carries.
“I think we moved around better,” Foster said. “I think we hit — some — which has been the difference the last two weeks.”
Southern Nash was coming off a win at Northern Nash in the final regular-season game in which the Firebirds gave up a season-high 50 points and 501 yards to the Knights, who finished 3-7.
The Firebirds got solid defensive play all around but senior end Kedric Anderson, senior linebackers Justin Quintavalle and Lamont Williams, senior tackle Moses Ward, junior defensive back Xavier Burgess, senior cornerback Darius Edmundson and junior linebacker Cameron Thompson all came up with big plays.
“I was proud of Justin,” Foster said. “We didn’t think he was going to be able to play with his knee. He hadn’t practiced the whole week.”
While the Firebirds veteran head coach was happy with his defense after the game Friday, it wasn’t all hugs and teddy bears during the week of practice.
“They’ve had a bad week,” Foster said. “It’s just hard for me to understand how you play a sport and you don’t enjoy the sport you’re playing and do the things it takes to play that sport.”
OUT OF GAS
One Firebird who might want to practice his 110-yard sprints is Thompson after coming up short in what might have been the longest touchdown run in school history.
Thompson scooped up a fumble by Aycock’s Jackson on the goal line about 2 yards deep in the end zone. After hesitating for a half-second, Thompson decided he would try to run with the ball.
Good idea because the Firebirds defenders had set up a wall of blockers that escorted Thompson down the home sideline. The only problem was Thompson, who stumbled after midfield and eventually was pushed out of bounds at the 2-yard line by a CBA player.
“I didn’t know if he was ever going to make it!” Foster said with a chuckle. “I haven’t ever seen anything like it.”
On Southern Nash’s second possession, junior quarterback Matt Foster had a long run that looked it might be a TD but it ended at 72 yards as he was knocked out of bounds at the 17 of CBA. On the sideline, Foster’s older brother, Zack, a Firebirds assistant coach and former quarterback, assured, with a grin, that his younger sibling would hear about his inability to get into the end zone.
Zonovan Knight showed exactly why he’s one of the best running backs in the state Friday night. The North Carolina State University commit ran for a season-high 353 yards and six touchdowns on 15 carries, breaking the Southern Nash season rushing record of 1,925 yards set by Alan Atwater in 2002. Knight, who has been selected to play for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in December, currently has 2,003 yards.
For most of the season, Knight has had less than 10 carries a game because A) most of the Firebirds’ wins are blowouts, and B) backfield mate Quinton Cooley is another dangerous in the Southern Nash double-wing attack. But Friday, Cooley took a back seat so Knight could claim the season rushing record.
“I think that shows you how unselfish he is,” Foster said of Cooley.
Atwater did manage to escape Knight’s eraser Friday but just barely. Atwater, who went on to play at Appalachian State, still has the single-game rushing record of 387 yards and rushing touchdowns with seven.
FALCONS’ BRIGHT FUTURE
While Aycock players and coaches will not want to remember the 63-point loss to end the season, the Golden Falcons may use it as motivation for 2019.
Several key players should be back next season, including Jackson, junior quarterback Alijuan Moore and junior running back Seth Shephard, as well as sophomore quarterback Clay Matthews, who threw for more than 650 yards in four games before a season-ending injury.
Falcons head coach Steve Brooks told his players in the postgame huddle that next year they would be hosting a first-round playoff game. The pieces are in place but it’s up to them, Brooks said.
“I hope so, you know,” Brooks said. “I hope that in 365 days we’ll improve that much (to host a playoff game). We want to be where they (the Firebirds) are. We want somebody to come to our place. We’ve got to eat and sleep hard every day on making that dream come true. I think we’ve got a group that can do it but if they don’t work, it won’t matter.”
SEVEN IN THE BOX
After SouthWest Edgecombe passed for more than 200 yards in its 35-14 loss to Tarboro to end the regular season, head coach Jonathan Cobb expected to see seven defenders in the box when his Cougars opposed Washington in the opening round of the NCHSAA 2-AA playoffs last Friday night.
Thus, Cobb was somewhat disappointed with a passing game that produced only 50 yards but elated with a rushing attack that churned out 350 yards.
“They put seven people in the box and we were able to run at will,” Cobb expressed. “Other than the two fumbles, we were running on all cylinders. It didn’t matter what gap was called.”
Senior backs Darntrell Council and Jareil Collins rushed for 134 and 123 yards, respectively. Council scored four touchdowns and Collins set up a pair of TDs with a 60-yard gallop and a 15-yard pass reception.
BACK TO FILM ROOM
A quick return to the SouthWest film room is planned to ascertain why Washington was extremely successful with the passing game in the second and third quarters.
Pam Pack quarterback Antwone Godley completed 10-of-15 tosses for 143 yards and a TD.
Said Cobb: “We are going to have to go the film room to find out why we were giving up so many conversions (four) on fourth down. It looked like we were letting the quarterback extend plays and, when we didn’t, we were slow breaking on the football.”
The Cougars shut down Washington’s aerial assault in the final quarter.
“We got out of the 50 (defense) and went back to the 40,” Cobb explained. “That’s probably where we are most comfortable. But we were doing a good job against the run in the 50.”
DIDN’T KNOW THAT
Upon being informed he scored four touchdowns and rushed for 134 yards on just nine carries, Council responded with a huge grin.
“I didn’t know I had done all of that,” he said. “I wasn’t counting. But I can’t do anything without my line and the other backs blocking for me.
“They are dedicated, hungry and ready to play. I am proud of myself and I’m proud of all of them.”
NOT THEIR BEST
However, Council was quick to access SouthWest’s overall performance as not one of its best.
“We had a lot of great moments, but we slacked a couple of occasions,” he remarked. “We know it’s going to get tougher every week and we have to step up a notch and not stay at one level.
“I’m glad we have next week, but this wasn’t our best game.”
Underdog Washington displayed heart and grit by turning to the passing game and rallying to chop a 28-7 deficit to 28-21 midway the third quarter.
But before the quarter ended, the Pam Pack had been deflated by SouthWest striking for a TD just 18 seconds after Washington closed the deficit to seven points and the Pam Pack losing its top running back, senior Kaci Foreman, to an injury.
“I knew it was going to be hard for them (Washington players) to come back and win that game,” commented Pam Pack head coach Jon Blank. “I was proud of parts of (the Pam Pack performance). We battled to end and that’s characteristic of our team.”
But uncharacteristic, Blank suggested, was being flagged for 13 penalties for 138 yards.
Blank noted the excess of holding calls were uncharacteristic and described a couple of other penalties as questionable. The Pam Pack was penalized 15 yards in five instances.
SouthWest was cited for nine infractions for 64 yards. Fifteen yards were marked off against the Cougars just once.
“We definitely didn’t win the penalty battle,” Blank said.