Prep Football Playoffs: South Point 24, A.L. Brown 7
By Paul Hershey
email@example.comKANNAPOLIS ó There is certainly no guarantee that A.L. Brown would have beaten South Point Friday night with standout running back Travis Riley available.
But what Riley’s absence did assure was that the Wonders’ margin for error in the 3AA quarterfinal game was dramatically reduced.
And while they didn’t make a ton of mistakes, they made enough against a good opponent to result in a season-ending 24-7 loss.
Third-seeded Brown spotted No. 7 South Point a quick touchdown and lost out a crucial swing early in the third quarter to end the season at 11-3.
Riley was held out of the game after sustaining a hard hit late in last week’s win over Asheville Erwin.
“It puts a damper on it when you don’t have your best running back,” Brown head coach Ron Massey said.
“He got dinged up a little bit last week and we just felt like health-wise we didn’t want to take a chance. That’s no excuse.
“I thought the kids stepped in there and did a good job. We found some things early but when you get behind against them, it makes it tough.”
Sophomore Xavier Stanback filled in admirably for Riley, rushing for a team-high 73 yards and scoring the Wonders’ lone touchdown on a reception. But it wasn’t enough.
“It’s heartbreaking that we lost,” Stanback said. “Once you give it your all over the summer, it’s just heartbreaking.”
The Wonders lost a fumble on the second play from scrimmage that set up a South Point touchdown, but it was a sequence in the third quarter that essentially decided the game.
Trailing 14-7, Brown a chance to even it up after a diving interception by sophomore Kaleel Hollis on the third play of the third quarter.
Taking over at the South Point 42, Stanback rushed three times in four plays for 30 yards, setting up first-and-goal at the 7. Fullback Antwoine Jordan gained four yards, but then was stuffed on second down and Martel Campbell was sacked for a 9-yard loss. Brenden Brown’s 29-yard field goal attempt sailed wide and the Wonders got nothing out of the turnover.
“We come back in the second half and get the turnover we wanted and just couldn’t stick it in,” Massey said. “A lot of that is on me.”
South Point then made the situation worse by marching 80 yards on six plays to open up a two-touchdown lead with 4:51 left in the third quarter. Fullback Aaron Crumbley scored on a 1-yard run that was set up by a 50-yard scamper by wingback Scott McWhirter.
“When we got the turnover and didn’t get the score, I think it deflated us. They made the big play coming back down and sticking it in and against them when you get down by two scores halfway through the third quarter you’re in trouble because you’re not going to touch the ball much after that,” Massey said.
Said South Point head coach John Devine of his team’s defensive stop and ensuing score: “Those three plays back-to-back were really the difference in the game.”
The Red Raiders added a 27-yard field goal on their next drive to make it 24-7 and the Wonders threatened just once after that, moving to the South Point 13 early in the fourth before being stopped on downs.
“They’re a very good football team,” Massey said. “I thought their defensive line was probably more physical tonight with their pressure on the pass. We just couldn’t make plays when we had to make them.”
The Wonders didn’t help themselves at all with their start.
After a false start penalty on the first play from scrimmage, Wonders quarterback Martel Campbell fumbled the snap on the next play and South Point recovered.
Quarterback Josh Justice ran untouched for a 17-yard touchdown on the Red Raiders’ first snap.
“We jumped offsides on the first play, then fumble and just put our defense in a hole,” Massey said. “After that I thought they played great. They just made some plays on offense.”
Brown tied it up midway through the second quarter on a 10-play, 60-yard drive. Stanback kept it alive with a 3-yard run on fourth down, then ran for 17 yards before an 18-yard touchdown catch over the middle. He held to the ball despite a hard hit right after the catch just over the goal line.
“Martel put it in the right place at the right time and I just made a big play for my team,” Stanback said.
South Point, though, responded with a methodical 84-yard drive to regain the lead. Justice completed only three passes in the entire game, but all three came on the go-ahead drive, which was also aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty.
“I thought we started shutting the run down a little bit and they went to the air,” Massey said. “We put our DBs on an island. We had to play man coverage and their receivers made the catches and the quarterback made the throws.”
McWhirter scored the touchdown on a 9-yard run with 39 seconds left in the first half.
While Brown’s defense did a pretty good job of slowing Crumbley (16 rushes for 76 yards) and Justice (20 rushes for 58 yards) inside, it struggled to contain McWhirter and fellow wingback Ramon Costner outside. The duo combined for 132 of the team’s 266 rushing yards.
“We said the wingbacks are going to have to beat us and they made some big plays,” Massey said. “They pitched it three times in the three films we’d seen and they pitched it more tonight than they pitched it all year. Give them credit for making that adjustment.”
Devine said his offense didn’t operate much differently than it had all season.
“We do all three phases ó fullback, quarterback, pitch, and we let you pick your poison,” said Devine, whose team will host 12th-seeded Anson County in the state semifinals next week. “We’ll just take what you give us and that’s all we can do. We’re not hard-headed.”
Meanwhile, the Wonders, who averaged nearly 300 rushing yards per game, were held to just 93 without their leader. Jordan had just 27 yards on 12 carries. Campbell, under heavy pressure much of the second half, completed 10 of 20 passes for 109 yards.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Massey said. “When you get to this point it’s tough to lose, but I think these kids will look back and appreciate what they accomplished in getting this far.”