Prep Football: A.L. Brown 49, Northwest Cabarrus 20
By Josh Hoke
KANNAPOLIS - A.L. Brown fans must have spent a good portion of the season wondering what if.
What if the Wonders' starting quarterback and star receiver weren't sitting on the sidelines on senior night and instead had combined with tailback Kalif Phillips to form what was projected to be one of the state's most dynamic offenses.
The final script of the 2012 season has yet to be written, but the Wonders have found themselves facing adversity seemingly the entire campaign. The status quo hasn't changed heading into next week's regular-season finale against Concord.
Brown didn't need quarterback Keenan Medley and receiver Keeon Johnson in Friday's 49-20 South Piedmont Conference win over Northwest Cabarrus, but this team would certainly be more dangerous had they - and Phillips, too - not suffered lower leg and foot injuries that derailed their senior seasons and this team's destiny.
"It felt good to come out here and get a win, but we really do miss our injured players," Phillips said. "We played for them. That's what we had to do. … If we get everybody back, this offense is unstoppable."
That's a big "if." It's unclear if Johnson will return this season and it appears even less likely that Medley will return. Yet, their teammates must push on.
Despite all the bumps in the road, the Wonders (8-2, 5-1 SPC) still have a lot to play for. Even though Hickory Ridge beat Concord Friday, clinching at least a share of the SPC championship, the Wonders could still tie for the title.
However, the Wonders would have to beat Concord next Friday and hope that J.M. Robinson upsets the Ragin' Bulls, which seems unlikely. Still, the Wonders are playing to retain the Victory Bell next week and to earn a high seed in the playoffs.
A win over Concord isn't a sure thing - especially the way Brown is playing defense. Without its dynamic offensive stars, the Wonders barely outscored Cox Mill earlier this season and couldn't do it last week in a blowout loss to Hickory Ridge. The 63 points given up against the Ragin' Bulls is believed to be a school record.
Brown coach Mike Newsome pushed the Wonders in practice this week, focusing on the fundamentals of playing defense. But there were still plenty of chinks in the Wonders' armor against the Trojans (3-6, 2-4 SPC) Friday, when they gave up 194 first-half yards after a bevy of missed tackles. Sure, the score was 28-7 at halftime, but that wasn't the point. Newsome wanted to see growth from his defense, and at times it wasn't evident that any had occurred.
Missed tackles doomed the Wonders against Hickory Ridge and that problem reared its ugly head once again.
"I think the guys just have to get more confidence in themselves," Newsome said. "We've got great athletes over there. I think maybe sometimes when you get into that slump of not being able to tackle real well it becomes an epidemic. They just have to gain their confidence back. This has just been [a problem] the last week or so. Early in the season we tackled well, and our coaches are putting an emphasis on it. I think they'll be fine. They did better this week than they did last week."
Still, the Trojans finished with 287 rushing yards, gouging the Wonders for long gains of 38, 33, 31 and 25 yards. Tailback Armon Dooley finished with 111 yards on 18 carries, and H-back Jarrin Hogue added 92 yards on 15 carries.
Yet, they weren't as lethal as Phillips and Brown power back Ricky Sherrill. It was fitting they had big games in their last guaranteed home games. Phillips has been the star throughout Newsome's two-year stint in Kannapolis, and Sherrill has been the healthy rock for Brown's offense this year, often carrying the load for a unit that desperately needed it.
Phillips rushed 13 times for 155 yards and three touchdowns. Sherrill rushed for only 41 yards but scored four touchdowns.
They alternated scoring touchdowns on the game's first four scores, giving the Wonders a 28-point lead and putting the game away before halftime.
"We had a good plan against them defensively," Trojans coach Rich Williams said. "We were trying to stop him (Phillips), because we know he is the bulk of their offense. He was too good for us. They've got a good scheme. … We just couldn't stop their team tonight.
"We knew we weren't fast enough to get outside them (on offense), so we tried to bang the ball in the middle and throw a few screens and play-action against them. We were successful, but we weren't successful enough."