Prep Football Playoffs: A.L. Brown 41, North Forsyth 31, OT
By Josh Hoke
KANNAPOLIS - Rarely would an onside kick return for a touchdown result in positive news for the kicking team.
But if it was ever going to happen, A.L. Brown's 41-34 first-round, overtime win over North Forsyth in the Class 3AA playoffs was a prime candidate.
In a game that featured a little bit of everything, oddly enough the beginning of the end came for the Vikings after they returned an onside kick 51 yards for a touchdown and a two-touchdown lead with 2:29 left.
It was a dangerous onside kick from Brown's Erik Amaya, and an even better snag and runback by North Forsyth's Markeen Carmichael. He broke at least five tackles en route to one of the more amazing kick return touchdowns you'll see, but the irony is this: had any of those five tacklers managed to bring him down, the Vikings would have likely ran out the clock and the Wonders season would have ended with a first-round loss for the first time since 1993.
"I wasn't really thinking good thoughts," Brown coach Mike Newsome said. "But then coach [Jeremy] Ryan reminded me that that may have been a good thing. They didn't take much time off the clock and gave us an opportunity to get the football back. Really, it ended up being a good thing for us."
The Wonders covered 73 yards in seven plays and 65 seconds on the ensuing drive, capped by Kalif Phillips' 2-yard scoring run, to pull within a touchdown with 1:24 left. On Brown's second onside kick, another beauty from Amaya, Brown's Orlando Gray recovered a loose ball after it bounced off a member of North Forsyth's hands team, setting the stage for the Wonders to pull off a miracle comeback.
Wonders quarterback Andrew Ramirez connected on 5 and 20-yard passes before hitting Robert Pinkston for a 17-yard score with 32 seconds left. Amaya hit the extra point that sent the game to overtime.
"It was exciting," Ramirez said of the tying touchdown. "I saw the safety go out with Keeon [Johnson] for a long route. Donte (Robert Pinkston) ran a great post, and I threw it right on the money to him for the touchdown."
The Wonders set up another bout with Hickory Ridge in next week's second round on Ricky Sherrill's 10-yard touchdown run on the first play of overtime. The Wonders defense, which has been suspect at times, held on downs to polish off the victory.
"We've got to make some plays," Vikings coach Pete Gilchrist said. "A couple of times we didn't make plays and let them back in it. If we recover the second onside kick, it's over.
"It's very difficult. You thought you'd close it out. We weren't able to close it out. They made plays at the end and we didn't. After that kickoff, we thought we would finish it and couldn't."
It was an especially amazing turn of events for Ramirez. Forced into starting after the injury to Keenan Medley, he's matured over the course of the season. But there are certainly moments when it's obvious that he's still learning how to play the position at a high level.
He threw one bad interception Friday on an ill-advised throw late in the third quarter. The pass led to an easy pick for Sierras Hauser, who returned it 43 yards for a touchdown and North Forsyth's first lead at 20-13. The Vikings led by 14 twice in the fourth quarter, but still the Wonders found a way to win. They were buoyed by Ramirez who was 20-of-28 passing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
"I've said all along that kid is a winner," Newsome said of Ramirez. "That's all that matters. He's not the prettiest quarterback. He's not the most extravagant quarterback. But he does the one thing you've got to do for your team and that's win."
The Wonders were held without a 100-yard rusher, but Johnson was pivotal in his second game back from an extended foot injury. He caught eight passes for 158 yards and a third-quarter touchdown. Unlike Brown's last meeting with Hickory Ridge - in which the Ragin' Bulls embarrassed the Wonders' defense - Johnson will be on the field to provide a deep threat on the perimeter.
Brown will visit the Harrisburg school next Friday just as it did in the regular season.
"Our kids were looking forward to that," Newsome said. "We've got to go play. We can't play like we played the last time we played them. We've got the make tackles. Our defense has gotten better, but we've got to carry it over to next week. They are riding a big wave right now, so we've got to have a great week of practice."
Said Ramirez, "I'm ready. It's revenge time. It's time to go show them what it's like to play a real football team."