Shaw: Cavs have something to prove
SPENCER — It was a simple, eloquent comment that Mike Robinson uttered several moments before kickoff Friday night.
He had just learned that Surry Central — North Rowan’s first-round opponent in the 2A state playoffs — was feeling relaxed and loosey-goosey, suggesting it had nothing to lose against the state’s top-ranked football team.
“Everyone’s got something to lose in the playoffs,” Robinson responded. “We’re all playing for the same thing — a state championship.”
Later, after North had disposed of SC in imperial fashion, Robinson revisited his pre-game remark.
“Everyone has a chance in these playoffs,” he said. “Saying you have nothing to lose is just not right. They had a chance to come out and win just like we did.”
If you’re starting to sense this could be a long postseason run for the still-unblemished Cavs, you’re not alone. This is a team that has its head screwed on straight, its eyes on the prize and its heart in the right place.
“It ain’t always perfect,” coach Joe Nixon said after the North locker room had emptied. “But in the playoffs it’s not about style points. It’s not about looking pretty. It’s about winning, surviving and advancing. And at the end of the day, we get to practice next week and play next Friday.”
Those are their rewards for treating Surry Central like uninvited guests at a biker’s convention. Never mind that the Golden Eagles knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. North dominated from start to finish, making SC look like innocent bystanders at a crime scene.
“We knew they were gonna play hard and we’d have to come out of the gate swining,” said SC quarterback Alex Martin. “But once they made a couple of big plays early, we had trouble bouncing back.”
The Cavs reached the end zone on each of their first five possessions and overcame an injury to all-solar system running back Jareke Chambers. North’s all-time leading rusher was speared in the shoulder by an SC linebacker after a short, first-quarter gain. As the crowd went quiet and Chambers convulsed on the field, one sideline observer was heard to say, “They just opened a can of whoop-ass.”
Indeed. Sparked by junior backup Raekwon Wynruit, North attacked Surry Central’s spongy defense until it threw its hands in the air and surrendered.
“I knew I had to step up and be the man I am on the football field,” Wynruit boasted after bulldozing his way for 87 yards and a second-quarter touchdown. “It was time to make plays.”
Even more impressive was North’s defense, which limited SC to eight first downs and 136 total yards while pitching its third straight shutout.
“As soon as you pop in the tape, the talent jumps out at you,” said losing coach Monty Southern. “It’s everywhere. You look at that defense and it’s hard to find a weak spot. Our hope was to control the clock a little more. But once you get down three scores, you can’t. And we knew it coming in. That’s what good teams do to you.”
It was almost like one of those loopy, Bugs Bunny fastballs. You know it’s coming and it still fools you. “I’m just glad we started fast,” said Nixon.
The Eagles were already gone by the end of the first period. They had no first downs, had lost a fumble, had a punt blocked and found themselves buried in a 19-0 hole. That’s not start they envisioned on the bus ride to Spencer.
“I think the accidental onsides kick was pivotal,” said Southern, referencing an opening-quarter giveway by a special teams player. “That’s a player who hadn’t touched the ball all year.”
North will touch at least another week’s worth. The Cavs advance with swords held high, confident their first steps along the yellow brick road to Chapel Hill are just that — their first.
“There’s always something to fix,” Robinson said afterward.
“This feels good, but we haven’t arrived yet. Our journey is far from over.”