3AA Football Playoffs: A.L. Brown 30, Robinson 14
By Paul Hershey
KANNAPOLIS ó It took the better part of three quarters and some help from special teams, but A.L. Brown’s offense managed to break free from the struggles that plagued it in last week’s upset loss to Concord.
Boosted by a kickoff return and a fumble recovery by senior Mike Robinson, the Wonders broke open a tight game with two Travis Riley touchdown runs in the fourth quarter and pulled away to a 30-14 victory over SPC rival Jay M. Robinson Friday night in the opening round of the 3AA playoffs.
“We were rusty, not being outside (for practice) and everything, but it doesn’t matter in the playoffs,” Brown head coach Ron Massey said. “It doesn’t matter how pretty or ugly it is, you just win and move on.”
Third-seeded Brown (10-2) did its part to set up a fifth straight postseason meeting with Charlotte Catholic. However, No. 11 Asheville Erwin knocked off No. 6 Catholic 49-28 Friday and will travel to face the Wonders in next week’s second round.
Regardless, Brown will likely need to take its game up a notch or two.
Against 14th-seeded Robinson (5-7), the Wonders led just 3-0 at halftime and only 10-7 heading to the final quarter before Riley scored on runs of 25 and 12 yards a little more than five minutes apart.
The first touchdown was set up by a momentum-turning 55-yard kickoff return by Robinson after the Bulldogs had gotten on the board and closed within three.
Robinson fielded the kick at his 1, nearly stepping backward across the goal line, then burst through a hole up the middle before being tripped up by teammate’s foot at the Bulldogs’ 44.
“Early in the season, I about scored on like three returns, so I knew I could do it,” Robinson said. “The team blocked for me and I busted through the hole. Unfortunately, I tripped over my own guy’s feet, but it’s all good.”
Four plays later, Riley ran up the middle and shook off a tackle inside the 5 to make it 16-7 seven seconds into the fourth quarter.
Both teams then went three-and-out, but Robinson running back Antonio Francis muffed Brown’s punt and Robinson pounced on the loose ball at the Bulldogs’ 48.
“When I saw him wave for a fair catch I screamed at him and he dropped it,” Robinson said. “I jumped on it and had it in my fingertips and Dana (Moss) pushed the ball into my arms more.”
Following a 14-yard run by Riley and a personal foul on the Bulldogs, Riley cut back through a hole and scored again to push the lead to 23-7 with 6:34 left. “Getting that score and then getting the turnover and turning around and scoring again, that was a good job answering back after they got back in the game,” Massey said.
Riley finished with 131 yards on 15 carries after a slow start.
Junior varsity quarterback Damien Washington tacked on a 31-yard touchdown with 1:54 to play before Robinson closed the scoring with a touchdown pass in the final minute.
“We knew it was going to be a struggle because it’s a playoff game,” Brown receiver Tyler Gilmore said. “No matter who the opponent is, they’re going to play hard and play four quarters. I hate being a second-half team, but that’s just what we are.”
Gilmore’s 14-yard catch on a fourth-and-8 kept Brown’s opening drive of the game going, and the 12-play march ended with a 21-yard field by Brenden Brown.
After that, though, the Wonders had to rely on their defense for the rest of the half.
Unlike the teams’ first meeting, Robinson starting quarterback Robert Cloninger was healthy and the Bulldogs mixed his passing with the running of Francis to move the ball. But Brown’s defense kept them off the scoreboard with two key stops on downs inside the Wonders’ 15.
That left the offense backed up, though, and it couldn’t get much going and was plagued by penalties, including a flag for an illegal formation that nullified a 92-yard touchdown run by quarterback Martel Campbell.
“We were lucky to get out 3-0 at half,” Massey said. “We got the field goal and then played on their side of the field it seemed like. They did a good job of making first downs and swung field position on us so we were backed up and just couldn’t break one. But credit our kids. We found some holes in the second half with some formations and were able to break some plays.”
The Wonders found the end zone for the first time on their opening possession of the third quarter. A 17-yard reception by Gilmore and a 14-yard run by Riley set up Campbell’s 1-yard run that capped a 47-yard drive.
Campbell rushed for 51 yards and was 5 of 12 passing for 63 yards. Several of those were key completions to Gilmore, who had four catches for 58 yards.
“There was a certain play that we ran and we kept running it and kept running it and putting it down their throats, basically,” Gilmore said. “They finally bit on it and then we ran another play and it was there. Just the coverage they ran helped us a lot.”
NOTES: Jaques Deese’s interception after Robinson had recovered an onside kick following its second touchdown finally ended the game… Held to 109 rushing yards in the first half, the Wonders rebounded to finish with 294 … Cloninger threw for 236 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score.
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