Prep Football: A.L. Brown 35, Rocky River 14
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó When A.L. Brown Brandon Eppinger took a knee on the final snap of Fridayís marathon, the scoreboard said the Wonders were still unbeaten and watches all over Memorial Stadium declared that the time was 11:23 p.m.
Brownís 35-14 win over Rocky River (1-2) will be remembered more for lateness than greatness. Due to lightning strikes, the opening kickoff didnít occur until 9 p.m.
Once the main event finally got under way, it was marred by penalties. Flag Day is listed on the calendar as June 14, but officials celebrated early. There were 190 yards in accepted penalties, and thatís not counting declined penalties and offsetting ones. Flags offered Brown one unique opportunity to try to convert first-and-48.
Did the long delay have something to do with all that?
In a word, yes.
ěI havenít seen a situation like this arise very often, but itís not easy for kids to keep their focus,î A.L. Brown coach Mike Newsome said. ěEspecially, when youíre at home. Theyíre sitting around the locker room texting and cell-phoning and itís hard to think about football.î
Newsome was very familiar with Rocky Riverís coaches. They coached against him when he guided Butler. Conversely, RRís staff knew Newsomeís playbook by heart.
ěWe knew as much success as Damien (Washington) has been having that theyíd key on him,î Newsome said. ěThere were plays they took away, plays that we thought they probably would take away.î
Quarterback Brandon Eppinger (14-for-19 for 221 passing yards), receiver Keeon Johnson (five catches, 113 yards, two TDs) and running back Kalif Phillips (96 rushing yards, two TDs) shouldered the offensive load.
While the UNC-bound Washington wasnít a factor in the running game ó mobs of Ravens waited to smother him every time he touched it ó he still produced a pair of lightning bolts, tossing a surprise touchdown pass on Brownís first offensive snap and catching a third-quarter TD thrown by Eppinger.
Rocky Riverís offense basically was a 31-yard completion by Andre Rice to Johnny Nunn that set up a second-quarter TD and a 34-yard Rice-to-Nunn connection for a score in the third quarter.
Rocky Riverís first play from scrimmage was disastrous, as Brown corner Jamar Clemons picked off Rice.
Brown then struck with Washington, a former QB, pulling up on what looked like a run, and zinging a TD pass to the 6-foot-3 Johnson.
ěWe thought that Damien throwing the ball would surprise them,î Johnson said. ěWe really thought Iíd be more open than I was, but I was able to come back to the ball and make a play.î
Johnson watched the Wonders (3-0) run the ball the first two weeks, but he and Eppinger and Phillips showed fans in Week 3 that the Wonders can strike in many ways.
ěWhen we werenít throwing much, I just had to keep my head up and make good blocks,î Johnson said with a grin. ěBut running and passing ó this is the way I like it.î
Brown led comfortably 28-7 at halftime. Newsome liked his offense and defense, everything but the flags.
ěIf we donít have those penalties, itís a different game,î he said. ěI hate to think how many yards we lost, not just yards we were penalized, but big plays that came back.î