Prep football: W. Iredell 42, Carson 14
By Bret Strelow
STATESVILLE ó Carson senior Travis Hayes crossed the field and received a congratulatory pat on the back from assistant coach Andre Neely upon reaching the sideline.
The closing seconds, much like the Cougars’ third season of existence, produced feelings of satisfaction and disappointment.
Carson, which didn’t win a game in its first two years, broke through this season and established some milestones along the way. Its chance to secure the first playoff berth in school history ended with a 42-14 loss at West Iredell on Friday night.
“We did a lot of good things this year and gave ourselves opportunities to win,” senior linebacker John Mullis said. “We came up short a few times, but I never imagined we’d take these steps that we’ve taken these two years. We got some wins under our belt, and that was an amazing feeling. I’m going to miss everybody.”
Shaun Warren eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season on his first carry and scored two touchdowns for Carson, which got a game-high 122 rushing yards from Jacorian Brown. West Iredell shut out Hayes, who entered the game with 973 career receiving yards, until he hauled in a 47-yard reception with three seconds left.
The Warriors (7-4, 5-4 NPC) took control by scoring two defensive touchdowns in the final minute of the first quarter. Carson (3-8, 2-7) answered the adversity with a touchdown drive, but Devin Miller’s 4-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal eliminated the Cougars’ momentum.
“You can’t get behind against that kind of talent,” Carson coach Mark Woody said. “I’m real proud of what we’ve done, but the life of a coach, you can’t be satisfied. You want to win another one.”
Carson’s first possession lasted 14 plays and ate up five minutes, but West Iredell’s Keenen Morrison batted down a fourth-down throw from the 28. The Cougars’ next three snaps produced 14 points for the opposition.
Brown fumbled on the first play of Carson’s next series, and Marquis Stevenson scored on a 25-yard return with 51 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. The Warriors stuffed Warren for a 4-yard loss to begin the next drive, and Derrick Murdock picked off a rushed pass from Ryan Jones. Murdock’s 38-yard return for a TD ended the quarter.
“That’s something we’ve experienced a lot,” Woody said. “We have to learn how to take care of the ball better, and the kids are trying. We have to protect the ball. We don’t have the firepower to come back and make terrific plays over and over and over again.”
Brown’s 50-yard gain on a third-down draw improved Carson’s chances of keeping the game competitive, and Warren scored from the 7 to cut West Iredell’s lead in half.
The Warriors responded with a 10-play march. One of West Iredell’s three running backs moved early on third-and-goal from the 1, and the ball popped loose as the running play progressed. Two Carson defenders were in prime position to make the recovery, but the ball squirted away and ended up in offensive lineman Garrett Elliott’s hands at the 4. The Cougars declined the motion penalty in order to bring up fourth down, and Miller won a sprint to the left pylon.
The Warriors pulled ahead 28-7 thanks to P.J. Clyburn’s 26-yard TD reception in the last minute of the first half, and they added to their advantage on Quan Rucker’s 5-yard keeper with 7:25 remaining in the game. Warren reached the end zone for the second time with 1:38 left.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t let them stay in the game,” West Iredell coach Mark Weycker said. “They’re so improved this year, and you have to give a lot of credit to their staff with what they’ve done the last three years. It’s a distinctly different football team than what we saw three years ago. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re physical.”
NOTES: Rucker, who sat out the first series, threw for 120 yards and ran for 62. … Carson’s Zack Gragg went 6-of-6 passing for 56 yards in a relief role. … Jenson Harden recovered a fumble for the Cougars.