Prep Football: Hickory Ridge 63, A.L. Brown 42
By Josh Hoke
HARRISBURG - As it turned out there were two caped protagonists on the field, one playing the role of Superman and the other the role of a magician.
But the narrative likely didn't play out the way you would have figured.
Hickory Ridge quarterback Nick Tyson put on a magic show and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Cabarrus County history Friday, leading the Ragin' Bulls to a 63-42 win over A.L. Brown that handed them control of the South Piedmont Conference race and countywide bragging rights. It was Brown's first loss to a county team other than Concord since 1976.
Days after he was named to the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team, Wonders (7-2, 4-1 SPC) tailback Kalif Phillips returned from injury and stepped right back into his role as an unstoppable force. He rushed for 214 yards and two touchdowns while also catching two passes for 94 yards and another score.
Yet, it was Tyson, the diminutive dynamo who stands just 5-foot-8, 158 pounds, who stole the show. He rushed for 154 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries, most of them coming out of the option. And he completed 8-of-12 passes for 223 yards and two more scores.
The final numbers were staggering, but it how Tyson accrued them that was so impressive. He created plays when there seemingly was no opportunity to do so, slipping by tacklers and threading the needle through the air.
"In my 12 years of coaching I've never had a kid that could lead a team and take control of a game, yet distribute the ball to everyone," said Hickory Ridge (8-1, 5-0 SPC) coach Marty Paxton, whose team got 125 rushing yards from Romello Barnett and 132 receiving yards from Nick Mullen.
It was Tyson's magical shuffle pass to Mullen midway through fourth quarter that swung the momentum for the final time. Facing second-and-11, Tyson scrambled for yards but somehow managed to pitch the ball to Mullen just before crossing the line of scrimmage and getting sandwiched by two defenders. Mullen gained 37 yards, and five players later, Tyson scored the winning points on a one-yard touchdown run.
Tyson iced the game two drives later, tossing a 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8 to Nick Frazier, who was surrounded by three defenders on the play. Yet, none of them could get to Tyson's pass, allowing Frazier to pull it in and cruise into the end zone to start the celebration early.
"It means a lot," Tyson said of the win as Hickory Ridge's student body rushed the field. "It's great to be on top of the conference. We've been working so hard this summer. This is so awesome. This is the best feeling ever.
"We work on scramble drills. It's hard to stop when we get rolling. Not many teams can stop us. That's one of the best teams in the state. … I just love my team."
Brown coach Mike Newsome loves his team, too, but the Wonders haven't been as dominant this season as they were in 2011. Though they've still beaten less talented opponents rather handily, there were signs that an upset was potentially in the making, especially with quarterback Keenan Medley and receiver Keeon Johnson still on the injured list.
Yet, Brown didn't have trouble scoring points on Friday. It was the defense that struggled.
"We had opportunities to get them stopped and just didn't get them stopped on defense," Newsome said. "It's tough to score 42 points and not win. Hats off to Hickory Ridge. Coach did a great job. We didn't play well. We didn't tackle well. We didn't play the fundamentals of football very well.
"We just killed ourselves. That's not to take anything away from Hickory Ridge, but we killed ourselves with missed tackles."
It looked for a while like the Wonders would survive the upset bid. Down 21-7 at one point, they stormed back to score the final two touchdowns of the first half on a touchdown run and reception from Phillips. The second touchdown was especially painful for Hickory Ridge because a drive earlier, the Ragin' Bulls had Tyson's 56-yard touchdown pass and then his 61-yard touchdown run called back by penalty.
Brown was in the driver's seat after Phillips scored for a third time on a 16-yard touchdown scamper to open the second half, giving the Wonders a 35-28 lead with all the momentum.
"I'm thinking uh-oh," Paxton said. "… But there were a lot of seniors out there. They were a part of our game up there last year. They really wanted this game. But it was nerve-wracking at the time."
The game was tied at 28-all, 35-all and then 42-all before the Ragin' Bulls finally put the game away.
This was thought to be the most points A.L. Brown has ever given up.