Prep Football: A.L. Brown 43, Shelby 24
By Josh Hoke
KANNAPOLIS — The Mike Newsome era started with a bang.
It could have just as easily finished with a thud, but Newsome’s A.L. Brown Wonders showed the same mix of flash, grit and resolve that was synonymous with his teams at Butler. The Wonders held off a furious comeback attempt from Shelby Friday, emerging with a 43-24 win at Memorial Stadium.
UNC commitment Damien Washington returned the opening kickoff 87 yards and added a 17-yard run, putting Brown up two scores after running just five offensive plays. The Wonders led 30-0 at halftime, but the status quo quickly flipped after the break, when Shelby scored 24 unanswered points.
Had a few plays gone differently, Newsome’s debut could have become notorious in these parts.
“We didn’t see those first-game mistakes until we got the second half,” Newsome said. “That kind of hurt us and gave them an opportunity to get back in it. It made it real interesting. But as Wonders do, they came back and made great plays at the end to seal the win.”
The victory wasn’t secure until fullback Gabe Luccero turned a simple dive play into a 26-yard touchdown with 4:12 left, putting the Wonders up 36-24. Washington’s 23-yard scamper less than a minute later sealed the result.
The Wonders started and finished like world beaters. However, they looked pedestrian for much of the third and fourth quarters, when Shelby, a prideful program embarrassed by its first-half performance, put the brakes on a Brown offense that was nearly unstoppable in the first half.
“I told them I didn’t do a very good job of getting them ready,” first-year Shelby coach Lance Ware said of his halftime speech. “I left it in their hands. I told them they weren’t playing like Golden Lions. That was my fault. They did in the second half.”
Tailback Kipton Key, who rushed 23 times for 122 yards, scored Shelby’s first points with a 36-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the second half. Five minutes later, Shelby capitalized on a Brown fumble, with quarterback Daylan Fuller taking a keeper into the end zone from 11 yards out.
Suddenly the Golden Lions couldn’t be stopped and a Brown offense that had 219 first-half yards couldn’t gain a first down.
“We thought the game was over at halftime,” Washington said. “That’s why we came out all sluggish in the second half. … We let down our guard. They just started scoring, and we offensively weren’t scoring and laid down.”
Still, the result didn’t look in doubt until Fuller hit Wesley Hillman on a 35-yard touchdown pass early in the second half. Key’s two-point conversion reception cut the led to eight, and then it shrunk to six after Wonders quarterback Brandon Eppinger was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone.
Shelby nearly took the led on the ensuing drive, but Brown corner Jamar Clemons broke up a sure touchdown pass. Brown didn’t regain the momentum until Washington’s 10-yard, drive-extending run with just over five minutes left. Luccero scored three plays later.
“It would have been a bad way to start,” Newsome said of blowing a 30-point lead in a loss. “I’m glad it finished up the way it did. I’ve got to get back in the groove. I’ve had an offensive coordinator, and I’ve got to get back in the groove of calling plays. A lot of [our second-half struggles] were on me as a head coach. You get rusty doing that. It happens, but we’ll be better next week.”
Washington was elusive from the opening play, taking Manning Burton’s kickoff near the left sideline and outrunning Shelby’s cover team to the right pylon. Shelby’s special teams, which struggled all night, handed the Wonders excellent field position on their second drive, and Washington waltzed into the end zone from 17 yards out.
Two touchdown runs from Kalif Phillips, including a 66 yarder, and a field goal seemed to have put the game out of reach by halftime. However, Shelby didn’t go away.