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Even for a team sport like football, it’s hard to deny just how big the individual contributions of senior running back Jalil Hutcherson were for the Beddingfield High varsity football team in a 41-14 win over Bartlett Yancey in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A playoffs Friday.
The Bruins’ ball carrier ran 22 times for 249 yards, accounting for more than 65% of his team’s offense, and four touchdowns in victory.
“I had to do it for the team, do it for my teammate Raekwon Batts,” Hutcherson said.
Hutcherson’s final stat line, though impressive, may even be a modest representation of his effectiveness in moving No. 9-seeded Beddingfield on to a matchup with No. 1 Clinton on Friday night, considering a 90-yard touchdown run and several other significant runs were called back due to penalties.
Broken down, Hutcherson turned out to be the deciding factor for the Bruins. Taking away his four touchdowns, No. 9 Bartlett Yancey could have escaped the game with a low-scoring 14-13 win.
Including his contributions, though, Hutcherson turned out to be the Achilles heel who had his way and ended the Buccaneers’ season.
Batts’ availability in question
With a physical running style taking its toll on the Bruins’ bruising powerback, Batts, Hutcherson dedicated his performance to his teammate, who left the game due to a shoulder injury.
Batts went down in the second quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury, but returned in the second half only to injure his shoulder and sit out the rest of the game. He finished with 71 yards on 13 carries — and motivated Hutcherson to pick up his own game.
“It gave me motivation because I know he’s a big player for this team on both sides of the ball,” Hutcherson said. “I just stepped up.”
The injury is significant for the chances of the Bruins moving forward because Batts (1,450 yards, 18 TDs) has been the workhorse back leading the rushing attack. Without him to counter the shiftier Hutcherson against the Dark Horses, the team’s rushing attack could be less effective by losing its most physical back.
After the game Friday, head coach Carl Smith was hopeful about the availability of his running back against Clinton — but the impending decision later this week could be huge for the team’s chances against another favored foe.
Adjusting to the pass
Representing the run-happy 2-A Eastern Plains Conference, the Bruins have not seen many pass-heavy teams this season.
That changed against Bartlett Yancey, which dropped back to pass 28 times and found roughly half its yards through the air. Smith said that forced his team to communicate more, and overall, he was pleased with how the team fared.
“I think they did well,” Smith said. “No game is perfect. They’re an 8 seed who came into the playoffs ready. They’re coming off the most wins in school history. They’re a good team, so for us to come out here and take away what we wanted to take away and make them do what we knew they didn’t want to do, I’m very pleased with my defense.”
Buccaneers quarterback Brendan Nunnally completed just nine passes for 165 yards, including a touchdown connection with wide receiver Luis Berlanga in the second half. In the end, the Bruins did enough to handle a new challenge.
“It was something we weren’t used to,” Hutcherson said. “But we got the job done.”
The defense will face a more familiar style of offense this week, tasked with slowing down a Dark Horses physical rushing attack led by senior J’daques Wallace, who eclipsed the 1,000 rushing yard total earlier this season.
Quite literally, Fike couldn’t have asked for a better start to Friday’s 3-A first-round game against Fayetteville Terry Sanford.
The Golden Demons, with a 4-7 record and five losses after being tied or leading in the fourth quarter, opened play by returning the kickoff 68 yards for a touchdown. Senior Octavius Carpenter fielded the short kickoff, picked up a convoy of key blocks along the near sideline and outraced the Bulldogs’ coverage unit to the end zone.
Later in the quarter on Fike’s first offensive play from scrimmage, senior Curtis Bullock found a seam off the right side and went 54 yards for another touchdown. The Demons led 14-7, and it appeared they would have sufficient speed to offset the plodding, but effective offense of the Bulldogs.
But it wasn’t to be.
“We came out hot and scored the first two times we touched the ball, which helps out,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “Then, we couldn’t get them off the field offensively. They were in control of the line of scrimmage. They run the ball and chewed up the clock. That’s what we need to be able to do to win football games and we weren’t able to do it tonight. But, they were.”
A HEAVY DOSE
A diversification of Terry Sanford’s offense wasn’t necessary to get the job done for the hosts at John Daskal Stadium on the campus of Reid Ross Classical School.
Instead, the Bulldogs elected to lean heavily on senior running back Dorian Clark, the school’s all-time leading rusher with over 5,000 yards to his credit.
Clark finished with 38 carries for 289 yards and four TDs, combining a punishing running style with an offensive line that took control of the line of scrimmage and wore down a Demons defense that spent an extended amount of time on the field.
“They’re good,” Nelson said of the Bulldogs. “I don’t know how they’re going to stack up. They’re going to have to be a little more diversified, I think, to go any further. But I was impressed with them.”
Terry Sanford’s game plan, from the outset, was to ride Clark and see if he could shoulder most of the load to get the Bulldogs into the second round. He did that, and then some.
“The kid, he doesn’t want to go home,” Terry Sanford head coach Bruce McClelland said. “It just kind of permeates through the offensive line. We’ve got four new starters on the line and nine new starters on offense, so it’s taken us a while to really get ramped up.”
Currently, Clark, who also plays baseball, holds no offers for football.
“So everybody out there who’s kind of looking at him — the Woffords, the Elons and everybody — pick up the paper again today and check out what he did,” McClelland implored.
DIDN’T HAVE TO BE HERE
The sum of Fike’s missed opportunities throughout the season — a fourth-quarter tie against Rolesville, a missed field goal against Rocky Mount and a late bogged down drive against Northern Nash, among others — equated to a No. 13 seed and the challenging road assignment at Terry Sanford. Even with another win or two, Fike’s prospects for getting out of the first round would have been greatly enhanced.
“We were probably four or five plays from being an 8-3 football team,” Nelson said. “It’s hard with the psyche of young kids. You lose a couple by a couple of points, and its hard to get them back sometimes. I’m proud of our kids that we stayed the course and ended up finishing and making the playoffs.”
Fike’s competitiveness wasn’t lost on Terry Sanford leading up to Friday.
“Coach Nelson is a hell of a coach,” McClelland said. “We know him, my staff knows him. They played Rocky Mount 8-7, and my eyes popped when I saw that. We saw them on film, we knew they played a little harder. I think we may have just been a little older. I’d hate to play those guys the next year and the next year with those sophomores coming up. And I felt like we came together and were a little more physical, at this point. But I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys. Those guys played their hearts out, and the ball rolled our way at the end.”
Fike’s senior class, after missing the postseason a year ago due to a postgame fracas with Hunt in the final regular-season game, was able to play an extra week this time around.
“I’m happy for those seniors that got to make the playoffs again after last year,” Nelson said. “Hopefully our young guys will see this and see what we have to work on. You can take four or five plays, and we’re probably 8-3 or 7-4 going into the playoffs, and we might be at home. But, it wasn’t to be.”
Hunt High sophomore running back C.J. Joyner is entitled to remember his team’s first playoff appearance since 2015 as potentially a breakout performance personally.
The Warriors lost 48-14 to undefeated Eastern Alamance, but Joyner sparkled with 166 rushing yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Joyner was upbeat about eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season (1,032 yards) but admitted: “I’m going to remember the hard hits.”
Of Joyner’s performance, senior offensive lineman Anthony Williamson noted: “He hit the hole hard; he hit the hole fast and then got downfield fast. He made holes for himself.”
Said first-year head coach Ryan Sulkowski: “I love the way C.J. runs.”
However, Sulkowski pointed out Joyner runs too upright and, thus, is subject to hard hits. Off-season work, added Sulkowski, will be devoted to lowering Joyner’s running form.
ACCOMPLISHED FEW GOALS
“We accomplished a few goals,” Sulkowski reviewed, “by winning more games (five) and making the playoffs (first time for the seniors).”
But the Warriors didn’t survive the first round as the No. 14 East seed in the 3-A playoffs.
“We put ourselves in a little tougher situation by not getting the job done against Fike (in the regular-season finale),” Hunt’s head coach reminded.
Hunt won four of its first five starts, but wound up losing six of its last seven — including the playoff trip to Eastern Alamance. The Warriors went 1-4 in the Big East Conference, finishing fifth among six teams.
Sulkowski blamed himself for shortcomings.
He said Joyner’s determined running and penchant for fighting for extra yardage was “something that had been missing.”
“He was under-utilized the past few weeks,” Sulkowski continued. “Instead of sticking with what had basically worked for us, we tried to do too much; we tried to get too cute. That falls on me.”
Encouraging for the coaching staff was the play of reserve underclassmen in the waning moments against Eastern Alamance. Hunt held the upper hand against Eagles reserves, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
“That’s our future,” Sulkowski reasoned. “We have some young talent. We’ll bounce back next year and see what we can string together. I want the guys to run track and work on their speed and conditioning.”
DOWNING THE EAGLES
Ball control was prominent in Hunt’s game plan last Friday night. Scouting reports told the Warriors that the Eagles were certainly prolific throwing the football and capable with their ground attack.
“Any time we play, we want to win the time of possession,” Sulkowski said.
“We thought we saw openings in their speed and read options They tried to over-compensate to the strong side and we felt like we had numbers.”
Instead, the Eagles scored touchdowns their first four possessions and wound up rushing for 175 yards and throwing for 173.
Eastern Alamance led 27-0 late in the first half and was threatening to build upon the lead.
But thanks to a pair of defensive gems from junior Andrey Loftin in the closing minutes, the Eagles didn’t put more points on the scoreboard.
First, Loftin stole the handoff intended for senior running back Colby May.
“I just went on a blitz and kind of took the handoff,” Loftin explained.
A couple minutes later, a diving Loftin was on the spot to recover Eastern Alamance’s muffed punt reception.
“It was competitive,” Loftin described his introduction to the postseason. “But I feel like we could have fought harder.”
EAGLES FLY, THEN LAND
From the outset, Eastern Alamance appeared intent in going for the proverbial jugular.
“That’s what we try to do,” 28th-year Eagles head coach John Kirby acknowledged.
But, for much of the second half, the Eagles played not only reserves but players elevated from the junior varsity for the playoffs.
“That’s kind of the way you’re supposed to play,” Kirby reasoned.
A team must construct at least a 42-point lead before the scoreboard clock runs non-stop.
That situation could have occurred earlier but, after scoring their sixth TD, the Eagles decided to kick the extra point. A successful two-point conversion would have resulted in Hunt facing a 42-0 deficit.
“We thought about it,” Kirby admitted. “But we’ve had trouble with missing extra points lately and we felt this was a good time to get in some practice.”
COUGARS ARE TD HAPPY
SouthWest Edgecombe ended the regular season and launched the 2-A playoffs by scoring a staggering 16 touchdowns in as many possessions.
The Cougars scored all nine times the offense touched the football in defeating Beddingfield, 60-22, on Nov. 8 to end the regular season and capture the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship.
SouthWest quick-hit East Bladen, 48-13 in the opening round of the playoffs Thursday, Nov. 14, and went 7 for 7 in possessions and resulting TDs.
In the two games, the Cougars have piled up nearly 900 yards total offense behind the running or senior Cortezz Jones, junior Demari Mabry, junior Tayshaun Pittman, senior Keishon Porter, among others. Also clicking is the passing of junior quarterbacks Jackson Lewis and Ray Wooten to the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Porter.
Turnovers forced by the defense and big-time stops deep in the opponent’s territory have influenced the 108 points in the last two games, but all of the TDs were scored by the offense.
The performance up front has been sensational.
“We have been firing on all cylinders,” acknowledged SouthWest head coach Jonathan Cobb. “All of it is driven by the offensive line.”
SouthWest’s running game has been so dominating that the intent of more involving the heralded Porter in the offense has been difficult.
However, the modest crowd saw a lot more of him Thursday night.
At wide receiver, Porter caught four passes for 91 yards. He dazzled as the quarterback in the shotgun formation, stepping for 61 yards on four rushes and scoring a TD. His 63-yard kickoff return also set up a TD. In fact, Porter responded with a key play in about every TD drive.
Cobb specifically wanted to feature Porter in a two-minute drill. He got his chance with well under two minutes left in the first half. After an East Bladen TD, Porter directed the Cougars 57 yards in three plays and six more points. After Jones’ 33-yard burst, Porter zigged and zagged for 19 yards and then pranced 5 yards up the middle for the TD.
“We are trying to get better in the spread package,” Cobb explained. “If we can do that, we get to run it in games.
“When we have a two-minute situation, (Porter) gives us the best chance to drive the ball downfield and score. He is such a great athlete and can make plays with his legs.”
WANTS TO WIN
The more action the better for Porter. But he just wants to win.
“I felt confident,” commented Porter of his performance that produced 216 total yards Thursday night. “I knew the team had my back. Everything clicked; everything was good. I just do what I need to do to help us get the ‘W.’
“We played good. We started off a little shaky on defense, but we got that right.”
Porter, who has committed to play basketball at NCAA Division I Radford University, understands the coaching staff wants to more involve him in the wishbone offense, and he’s appreciative.
“I like doing both (catching and running the football),” Porter said. “They want me to get the ball more. I feel great about that.”
Of paramount concern to the SouthWest coaching staff was East Bladen’s ability to dominate time of possession and pile up over 250 rushing yards.
The backfield trio of Kasey Price, senior Lawson Hester and junior ReSean McKoy combined for a whopping 57 of the Eagles’ 64 rushing plays. Price was the workhorse with 156 yards on 26 totes.
With five drives that consumed five-plus minutes of the clock, East Bladen owned possession of the football for more than 30 of the 48 minutes of actual playing time. The trio combined for 244 yards.
“We have to get much better going forward,” Cobb emphasized. “We need to take a look at the film, diagnose the illness and find a remedy.”
FIREBIRDS GET NO KICKS
Southern Nash has reached the second round of the playoffs as healthy as the Firebirds have been in recent postseason forays. However, with senior kicking specialist Evan Barnes out with mono, head coach Brian Foster has had to go to plan B.
Southern Nash, top-seeded in the 3-A East bracket, didn’t attempt an extra-point kick after any of its five TDs in Thursday’s 38-6 defeat of No. 16 E.E. Smith of Fayetteville. However, the Firebirds did convert four two-point conversions with senior Quinton Cooley running in three of them.
Senior quarterback Matt Foster stepped up to handle punting duties the one time Southern Nash had to kick it away and turned in a 35-yard boot.
Junior lineman Elijah Bass performed well on kickoffs, Foster said, but the Firebirds coach would rather have Barnes back. The senior has drilled 50 of 60 PAT kicks and has made two of his four field-goal attempts in addition to punting and kicking off.
Brian Foster said that he’s unsure when, or if, Barnes will return.