Rivalry game goes to Concord
KANNAPOLIS — Some had tears in their eyes. All had torment on their faces. One by one the A.L. Brown Wonders made the lonely walk across the muddy turf at Memorial Stadium.
But the victorious Concord Spiders made sure they couldn’t make the walk in peace, serenading them with the incessant ringing of the Victory Bell. Only time will tell if it was tolling on Brown’s season.
“I told the kids this game is a double-edged sword playing it first,” Wonders coach Mike Newsome said after a 33-20 season-opening loss to his school’s bitter rival.
“… That’s tough for them to take. They can drop their heads and we could go one direction. On the other side of the coin, if you get back next week, we could rock and roll through a new conference, do things we need to do and win a lot of football games.”
It’s an unfamiliar position for Newsome and his team; he wasn’t around and his players weren’t born the last time Concord, who is now 42-38-4 against Brown, won two straight games in this series. It’s also a peculiar position for maybe all but a handful of Wonders fans. These teams haven’t met in the season opener since 1931, meaning it’s been 82 years since one of them has had to cope with losing its biggest game in Week One.
If Newsome’s team – one he said played better than he expected – is going to mature in a hurry, this would be a great time for it to happen.
“It’s real tough man,” said Brown tailback R.J. Fowler, who led the Wonders with 62 rushing yards and two touchdowns but also lost two pivotal fumbles. “We went hard all summer. It’s hard to lose the Bell game. … We’ve just got to step forward. We’re a strong team. We’ve got it.”
The Wonders made the mistakes that you’d expect from a young team. Two interceptions, two fumbles inside the red zone and a bevy of missed tackles in the first half doomed their efforts.
Concord tailback Rocky Reid was the offensive star for the Spiders, racking up 232 yards on just 16 carries. He broke up 57- and 82-yard touchdown runs in the first half and iced the game with a 48-yard scoring run in the game’s final three minutes.
But he wasn’t the only star for Concord. Senior defensive back Qua Grisson recovered both of Fowler’s fumbles and also picked off Brown quarterback Andrew Ramirez on each of the Wonders’ final two drives.
“It was just kids making plays,” Concord coach Glen Padgett said. “I’m just proud of our players. That’s what this game is about.”
There were other big playmakers for the Spiders as well. Sophomore safety Carter Mozingo returned a kickoff 77 yards for a first-quarter score and receiver Myles Neils took a short swing pass and raced 81 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Their success was a combination of skill and bad tackling from the Wonders. Eighty-two percent of Concord’s total yardage came on its four offensive touchdowns.
“It doesn’t matter what level you are playing in, you can’t give up big plays,” Newsome said. “Our defense played good other than the big plays. As young as we are, the offense played better than expected. We lost over 5,000 yards of offense to graduation, and I thought the kids played well despite that.”
The status quo likely would have been different if the Wonders could have held onto the ball when it mattered most.
Fowler’s fumbles were both inside Concord’s 10-yard line. On the first, he rushed for 18 yards on 3-and-8, but he eventually fumbled and the loose ball was recovered by Grisson midway through the second quarter. Down 11 midway through the third, he lost another fumble at Concord’s 6.
Still, the Wonders had cut the deficit to 5 midway through the final quarter and were facing third-and-7 from Concord’s 23, when Ramirez was rushed in the pocket and forced a bad throw into traffic that Grisson easily picked off. The 6-foot, 200-pound Reid added to the lead with his third rushing touchdown on the game’s next drive before Grisson sealed the victory with his second interception.
“I just stayed in my zone and did what my coaches told me to do,” Grisson said. “I just played the game. I don’t know why [they kept throwing to my side]. I know he saw me out there. It was almost like he was looking for me. It wasn’t luck. It was doing what my coaches told me to do – dropping into my zones and reading the quarterback.
“We did something tonight that hasn’t happened in a lot of years.”
Only time will tell if the Wonders can recover from it.