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SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb, throughout the season, has raved about the performance of his offensive line.
Following last Friday night’s 60-22 rout of guest Beddingfield by SouthWest to win the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship, it’s time for Cougars’ offensive linemen Jaquaez Powell, a senior; senior Davis Wainwright, senior Haston Warren, senior Drake Hodges, junior Jaden Richardson and senior Landyn Harrell to take a bow.
The numbers reflected their superb work up front as SouthWest claimed at least a share of the EPC title for the fifth consecutive year.
The Cougars prowled for 352 yards on the ground and 105 more through the air. SouthWest scored a touchdown each of its nine possessions.
“The offensive line has been special,” Cobb declared. “It has really gotten after it lately.”
SouthWest senior running back Cortezz Jones heaped praise upon the offensive line for its role in his performance of 167 rushing yards, four touchdowns rushing and another TD receiving. The linemen probably most appreciated his words.
“I can’t say enough about how great my line blocked for me tonight,” Jones commented. “My linemen love sugar and they always get pancakes.”
FIKE GETS IT GOING
When in possession of the football, there are multiple methods with which to matriculate said ball down the field.
But invariably in the high school game, a winner and loser is going to be determined by two factors — which team asserts their will at the line of scrimmage and which foe schemes the best in the run game. Along the way, praise is bestowed upon the running backs, who navigate through the holes and soak in the adoration of the crowd as they make a beeline for the end zone.
However, no running back is going to get very far past the line of scrimmage without the blocking of an offensive line. Indeed, Fike High’s quintet up front simply got the job done in Friday night’s 38-7 victory over Hunt that catapulted the Golden Demons, 21 seniors strong, into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
The unit of junior Lamont Batts, senior Zavion Taylor-Best, junior James Branch, senior Marquez Boyette, senior Zavier Ivery along with Fike’s “Tiger” or H-back, junior Jamel Mcneal, paved the way for 280 yards on the ground.
Many were of the violent variety as senior Mike Rand posted 188 yards on 13 carries and two TDs. Rand inflicted punishment on several carries, racking up the nicknames from the press box as the showing unfolded. Junior Curtis Bullock tacked on 88 yards, using 18 carries to notch Fike’s other two offensive scores.
“I thought they did great,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “And I thought we blocked well on the perimeter. Our receivers have really taken pride in blocking out there. That was a total team effort. Our running backs ran hard, and our line blocked good. Our quarterback made good decisions. Finally!”
Fike’s ownership of the line wasn’t lost on Hunt, which remained in the postseason picture despite the loss, but fell one slot below the Demons and will visit unbeaten Eastern Alamance on Friday in the 3-A first round.
“I think they did a good job washing our D-Line down and getting up to the second level to our linebackers,” Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski said. “I thought their offensive line was very physical, and they ran the ball hard — and with passion.”
NO ONSIDE KICKOFF
The Beddingfield contingent expressed no complaints, but some grumbling occurred when SouthWest, leading 60-14, appeared to attempt an onside kickoff.
The apologetic Cobb assured an onside kickoff was not the intent.
Cobb explained the call was a squib kickoff. The Cougars wanted to kick away from dangerous Beddingfield kick returner Jalil Hutcherson. At the last instant before the kickoff, the player standing next to the kicker alerted the kicker that Hutcherson was switching sides of the field.
The kicker attempted to alter his attempt and kicked the football off the side of his foot and point-blank at a Beddingfield up lineman, who covered the football.
Senior kicking specialist Hunter Hopkins, from the outset, displayed the ability to consistently boom kickoffs inside the Bruins’ 10-yard line. But after Hutcherson returned the first Cougars kickoff 49 yards to SouthWest’s 46-yard line, Hopkins was instructed to resort to squib kickoffs.
Last Friday evening in the SouthWest stadium proved emotional for first-year Beddingfield head coach Carl Smith.
In that same stadium, Smith roamed as a SouthWest running back in the early 2000s.
Smith is a SouthWest graduate and launched his coaching career as an assistant on the staff of SouthWest head coach Raymond Cobb in 2007.
In his first season, Smith directed his Bruins into the conference championship game against a SouthWest squad coached by Jonathan Cobb, Raymond’s son. Smith’s Bruins didn’t fare well.
“But I a proud of them,” Smith emphasized. “They never stopped playing hard and never quit. We are going to be all right.”
Cobb assured his Cougars would prefer not to see Beddingfield in the playoffs.
Smith commended the SouthWest program.
“Hats off to a great program,” he remarked. “They built it right. Congratulations to them.”
Somewhat overshadowed by Jones’ huge night was a sparkling offensive performance from junior SouthWest running back Demari Mabry.
Mabry galloped 48 yards for the first Cougars TD on the game’s second play from scrimmage. Mabry added a 42-yard scoring scamper in the second quarter.
The 6-foot, 180-pound junior wound up with 118 yards on just seven rushes.
WARRIORS DIDN’T MATCH
Hunt’s intent was to come out and establish the ground game itself, utilizing the Maryland I formation with the quarterback and three running backs dotting the I behind junior A.J. Kovach. Sophomore Christian Nicholson, at 240 pounds, manned the first slot behind Kovach and took Hunt’s first offensive carry for nine yards.
A harbinger of things to come? Not so much. Penalties and an ineffective punting unit combined to leave the Demons in favorable starting field position for most of the night. Hunt was assessed seven penalties for 73 yards.
“In that type of offense, it’s kind of hard to recover from five-yard penalties,” Sulkowski said. “When you’ve got a first-and-10 and you gain three or four yards or five yards and it gets called back for a hold or something, that’s tough to overcome. That’s what really killed us tonight offensively, and I thought the Maryland I was going to be beneficial. We fell behind in it.”
Nelson lauded the continuation of his defense’s strong play in the second half of the season, save for a 35-yard run given up to Hunt senior Tiquez Taylor on a third-and-25 in the third quarter. Taylor took the direct snap and weaved his way to the end zone.
“A lot of times, when you’re searching for something like that, it might work initially,” Nelson said of the Maryland I. “But if you haven’t had a lot of time to practice it, sometimes it doesn’t work out real well. And I thought our defense did a great job of adjusting. Besides third-and-50 (actually 25) there.”
PUSHING FOR MORE
With 26.9 seconds left in the first half, Fike took possession on its own 30-yard line with a 14-0 lead. Would Fike be content taking the margin into halftime, or would it push.
The answer would soon come to fruition.
After a loss of two with sophomore quarterback Demari Daniels running the ball, he dropped back and found senior Monta Howard for a big catch and run for 58 yards down to the Hunt 14. Having timeouts at his disposal, Nelson took one and ushered sophomore Will Fogleman onto the field to try a 31-yard attempt.
Hunt’s Sulkowski got the attention of the line judge and called a timeout of his own in the effort to “ice” Fogleman on an already frosty night, but the kick had just enough to get over the crossbar to send the Demons into the half with a three-score edge at 17-0.
“We ran it first, and I was hoping to pop something and it didn’t happen,” Nelson said. “I said we’ll call timeout, and we’ll take one shot to see what happens. And it ended up working out for us. I’m really happy for Will Fogleman. Because he never kicked before this summer, and I asked him if he wanted to come out and try and he did. He has grown by leaps and bounds, so I’m really proud of that kid for sticking with it and seeing the fruits of his labor finally pay off.”