Prep Football: Carson 41, North Iredell 6
By Ryan Bisesi
SALISBURY - Last year, Carson ended the regular season with its fourth win against North Iredell only to be left out of the postseason.
This time though, the waiting game looks to end with positive results for the Cougars.
Carson scored 34 unanswered points and put itself in good standing for a playoff bid in a 41-6 win against North Iredell on Senior Night.
After a 1-6 start, Carson (4-7, 3-3) won three of its last four to become playoff eligible and finish in fourth place in the North Piedmont Conference.
"We just keep plugging along," Carson coach Mark Woody said. "I've said that all year we've never quit on each other. This is a great group of kids."
The Cougars put up 27 points in the third quarter and punted just once in its highest point total of the season.
Carson's Brandon Sloop ran for 141 yards to reach triple digits for the fifth game this year. Sloop found the end zone twice to give him seven touchdowns for the year.
"We knew what happened last year," Sloop said. "We wanted to win and get in this year."
Carson quarterback Austin McNeill broke a school record for most touchdowns thrown in a season with his 16th coming in the first quarter. McNeill hit K.J. Pressley on a 35-yard touchdown pass on the Cougars' second drive as Pressley leaped over the pylon.
"I just try to do what I can to help the team win," McNeill said. "It ain't really about me. It feels good, but that's not what it's all about."
Ben Gragg's interception to halt a hopeful NI drive and Darren Isom's fumble recovery helped turn a 14-6 battle into an orange crush. Andrew Hower also scooped a fumble for Carson.
"They were talking about in the paper how we didn't have turnovers," Woody said. "The kids took it personally. They wanted to get some turnovers."
Isom recovered a fumble on the kickoff to start the second half to give the Cougars the ball deep in NI's end. Four plays later, Tyler Reynolds scored on an 11-yard run to make it 21-6 and Carson smelled blood. North (1-10, 1-5) was coming off its first win in a 30-0 win against West Iredell.
"That was disheartening," North Iredell coach Sandy Grinton said of the fumble. "It's just one of those things."
In addition to the recovery, Isom had 75 yards rushing on just eight carries. Reynolds, a late-season addition, ran for 41 yards.
"I think we all have our greatness," Sloop said. "If we can share carries it takes a lot off everyone's back. We can stay fresh."
North quarterback Jacob Queen hit Lewis Thomas on fourth-and-5 for a 36-yard TD that pulled North within 7-6. It came at the end of a 13-play drive that was extended by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on Carson. The Cougars were plagued by miscues with 115 penalty yards on the night. The Raiders forced a turnover on downs on the ensuing drive and looked to be in business, driving down to the Carson 20 on a first down. The Cougars came up with a big fourth-down stop, halting Queen in the backfield on fourth-and-7.
Carson took over at its own 22 and got a 23-yard rush from Sloop and 25-yard completion to Greg Tonnesen. Sloop brought it in from a yard out on third-and-goal to make it 14-6 with 1:22 left in the half.
North got a good return on the kickoff and had first down at the North 33 with under a minute to play. Queen fired a pass over the middle that was picked off by Gragg for his first interception of the year with 21 seconds left.
"I got under the receiver and we got good pressure from our defensive linemen," Gragg said. "I had to come and make a play on it."
McNeill and Isom added rushing touchdowns in the third quarter for Carson, which beat NI for the fourth straight year.
"We've been through a bunch this year," McNeill said. "We were just trying to end on a good note and make the playoffs."