Prep Football: North Rowan 19, Carson 14: Nixon wins his debut
By David Shaw
CHINA GROVE — Joe Nixon’s coaching debut was awkward, clumsy and oh-so-wonderful on Friday night.
The new head coach at North Rowan watched his team commit 17 penalties and still emerge smelling like a tray of cinnamon buns, escaping with a 19-14 season-opening victory at Carson.
“It’s all about the players tonight,” Nixon said after the Cavs pulled off the season’s first upset. “They played their hearts out. It’s nice for me, but it’s not about me or the coaches. It’s about them.”
North received three rushing touchdowns from sophomore Jareke Chambers and played defense like its supper depended on the outcome, limiting a highly touted Carson offense to 187 total yards.
“We all wanted to play real hard for our new coach,” senior defensive lineman D’Quan Miller said. “All we were trying to do was deliver.”
Carson was equally plagued by mistakes and penalties (15 for 184 yards) and its offense repeatedly stalled. Quarterback Austin McNeill completed 12 passes for 115 yards — including a second-quarter touchdown to Ben Gragg. But in many ways, the Cougars were fighting themselves as well as North.
“It never felt like an uphill battle,” said two-way lineman C.J. Cain. “Even when it was 7-7 and later when we went down, we kept trying to make plays. But nothing in high school football is guaranteed. We had opportunities and we didn’t capitalize.”
North did, beginning when it took the second-half kickoff and quickly marched for a tie-breaking TD. Sophomore quarterback Alexis Archie (8-for-17 for 96 yards) steered the Cavs 56 yards in eight carefully scripted plays. Chambers capped the drive when he took a pitchout, swept around the right side and tip-toed into the pylon for a 9-yard score.
“I remember the play,” Chambers said with a smile after rushing for a game-best 85 yards and snagging five passes for another 53. “I remember seeing No. 28 (Carson linebacker Patrick Ratliff) coming right at me, but I kind of stutter-stepped outside and around him. Then I saw No. 6 (DB Tyreese Paul), but I drove my feet and made it.”
The run gave North a 13-7 early in the third period. Then came a lull in the action when no one moved the ball better than the officials and the teams traded punts and incomplete passes.
“It was really a sloppy game,” said Carson wideout K.J. Pressley (7 receptions for 64 yards). “We can’t win playing like this.”
North caught a wave of momentum late in the third period when Cecil McCauley sacked McNeill for a 5-yard loss, silencing a Carson rally. Moments later he did it again, dropping McNeill for a 9-yard loss on fourth-and-16.
“We played gap sound defense,” McCauley explained. “It was basically us and everybody behind us pushing forward. And we kept it going.”
The fourth quarter featured a 13-play, 58-yard scoring drive that provided North’s winning margin. Seven penalties — four against North — were enforced on the drive that burned 6:30 off the clock. When Chambers exploded up the middle on another 9-yard TD run, the Cavs owned a 19-7 lead with 4:46 to play. “Nearly seven minutes they held it,” McCauley said. “I thanked them for that.”
Carson answered with a late TD and PAT, but when NR’s Andre Cowan tucked away a pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff, North and Nixon had a memorable win.
“I’ve never seen a pretty loss,” he said afterward. “We’ll take an ugly win and any other win we can get.”
Losing coach Mark Woody was clearly disappointed but made a point to praise Nixon. “He’s on Cloud Nine right now,” Woody said. “I know how that feels. I told him I hope he wins them all but one. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that one tonight.”