Prep Football: A.L. Brown 38, Hickory Ridge 13
By Paul Hershey
KANNAPOLIS ó A.L. Brown running back Travis Riley has made a habit of using his speed to break away for long touchdown bursts. And he’s routinely displayed his strength and power when breaking tackles or running over defenders.
He did those things again during Friday night’s key SPC game against Hickory Ridge.
But on a 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that capped off the Wonders’ 38-13 victory, Riley showed he can be patient and elusive as well.
Taking a pitch to the right, he encountered several Hickory Ridge defenders but saw a way around them, making a quick move back to the inside, and then back out before sprinting down the sideline.
“He kind of set it up and waited for the cut,” Wonders head coach Ron Massey said.
The run was the last of Riley’s four touchdowns in the game ó and his personal favorite.
“The sweep was pretty nice,” Riley said. “The line was blocking pretty good so we could do about anything with the run game. (Fullback) Antwoine (Jordan) made a great kickout block outside so I was able to cut it up and then make a cut back outside.”
Riley opened the scoring with a 75-yard sprint on Brown’s second offensive play and later had touchdown runs of seven and four yards. He totaled 210 yards on 19 carries as the Wonders (8-1, 5-0) took over sole possession of first place in the SPC.
“You’ve got two games left and we knew we had to win this one to have an opportunity,” Massey said. “Now we’ve got to go to Northwest and they’re going to have one loss. So we told our kids we’re just starting the playoffs a little early.”
Against Hickory Ridge ó which came in unbeaten in the league after surprising Northwest last week ó the Wonders scored on their first two possessions and maintained control throughout.
Riley followed his opening score with a bruising 22-yard run on the next drive
“That’s always fun to do,” the junior said about running over defenders.
His 7-yard score on the next play made it 14-0.
Hickory Ridge (5-4, 4-1) got on the board on a 45-yard run by Brian Baltimore midway through the second quarter, but the Wonders answered with 10 points to build a 24-6 halftime lead.
A Hickory Ridge interference penalty started a 66-yard Brown drive that Riley capped with his third score of the game. In between, Jordan had a 31-yard run and quarterback Martel Campbell caught a 21-yard reverse pass from receiver Tyler Gilmore on a fourth-and-16 play.
It was an identical play to one the Wonders used on a fourth-down play earlier in the season against Kings Mountain.
Campbell didn’t score on that one, but he would have scored on this one ó except he slipped and fell at the Hickory Ridge 4. Riley strolled in on the next play.
“We knew they were giving us man coverage and they can’t cover the quarterback in man coverage so we’d planned on using that this week,” Massey said.
Brown’s defense then delivered its standard contribution, with linebacker Desmond Gray blindsiding Hickory Ridge’s passer, forcing a fumble and the Wonders recovered at the Ragin’ Bulls 26.
That set up a 38-yard field by Brenden Brown with 2:16 left in the half.
“I was glad to see him kick the field goal and then kick a couple deep balls in the end zone (on kickoffs),” Massey said. “I thought our special teams did a great job tonight.”
The Wonders made it 31-6 on their second possession of the second half. A leaping 31-yard reception by Gilmore set up a 23-yard touchdown run by Campbell.
After gaining 118 yards on his first five carries, Riley was actually slowed by Hickory Ridge’s defense until the 56-yard score in the fourth quarter. He had gained just 27 yards on his previous 13 rushes.
This didn’t come as a surprise to Massey.
“We knew it was going to be feast or famine the way they play defense,” he said. “They bring a lot of people and we knew they were going to make some plays, but we knew if we could get to the second and third level we’d have a shot.”
Said Riley: “They were hitting me, that’s all I know. Their defense played good and was able to make some stops. But the coaches were able to make some adjustments and we were able to make some more plays.”
Baltimore rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns for Hickory Ridge, but the Wonders completely shut down the passing game, allowing just two completions for 12 yards.
“The effort was great,” Massey said. “I thought the defense did a great job in the first half of controlling them a little bit and keeping them from getting multiple first downs.”
Brown can clinch at least a share of another conference championship by winning at Northwest Cabarrus next week as the teams renew their rivalry after a four-season hiatus.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Riley said. “We’ve got to go out next week and beat Northwest and then beat Concord.
“We want to win state, but you’ve got to start by winning the conference. So that’s our goal.”
NOTES: For the first time in a while, the Wonders lost the turnover battle. They lost a fumble and Campbell threw an interception on consecutive possessions in the second half. … The four touchdowns gave Riley 26 for the season…. Jordan gained 43 yards on eight carries.