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Prep Football: Porter Ridge 41, A.L. Brown 13

By David Shaw
dshaw@salisburypost.com
INDIAN TRAIL ó A.L. Brown had the smile wiped off its face Friday night.
The previously unbeaten Wonders failed an important road test at Porter Ridge, where they suffered a 41-13 non-league loss.
ěWe didnít play as well as we hoped to play,î first-year coach Mike Newsome said. ěDefensively we had trouble getting them stopped and offensively we ran our game plan. We just shot ourselves in the foot a couple times.î
Kannapolis (3-1) hoped to place an early-season exclamation mark at the end of the highly anticipated evening. Instead it turned in a fractured performance, one pocked with near-misses, a leaky defense and four costly turnovers.
ěIf we really want to be champions,î defensive end Gerald Holt said, ěweíve got to play better than this. A lot better.î
Kannapolis remains the favorite in the SPC, but it was no match for PR (4-0), a member of the hybrid 3A/4A Southern Carolinas Conference. And while Brown quarterback Brandon Eppinger directed an effective attack ó it racked up 336 total yards ó its defense yielded six touchdowns and 562 yards.
ěWe were hoping to keep them off the field,î Newsome said. ěFor the most part it was working. Our best defense tonight was the offense staying out there. But once they got the lead ó and went ahead by two scores and then three and then time started running out ó we had to change our game plan.î
The Wonders quickly fell behind 14-0 in the opening quarter. Porter Ridge quarterback Lee McNeill set the tone when he bolted 74 yards for a TD on the Piratesí fifth play from scrimmage. Moments later, following a deflected interception, he lobbed a 2-yard scoring pass over the middle to Stephen Musacrello.
ěHis job is to read the defense and make plays,î said winning coach Blair Hardin, a former Kannapolis standout. ěThatís what our whole offense is based on.î
McNeill, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, passed for 220 yards and ran for 140. ěHe was pretty good,î Holt conceded.
So were the Wonders in the second period. Tailback Damien Washington rushed for 225 yards and both Kannapolis touchdowns in the first half. He finished with 226.
ěWe were running the ball like we wanted to,î Newsome said. ěWe just got in a situation where we had to throw it. That didnít go as well as we had hoped.î
Washingtonís second TD ó an 80-yard sprint down the left sideline ó drew the Wonders within 14-13. They failed to tie the score when a poor snap made kicking the extra point impossible.
ěWe came in here and thought we had a great chance,î Eppinger said. ěBut we flipped over at halftime. I donít even know what happened.î
Brownís disintegration began late in the second quarter. McNeill had carefully advanced the hosts from their own 20-yard line the 46. Then on first-and-10 he faked a pitchout, gained an edge on the right side and raced 54 yards for a score.
Porter Ridge took the second-half kickoff and marched 70 yards on a time-consuming, 14-play scoring drive. When sophomore Jerrick Robbins slipped into the end zone on a 1-yard push, the Pirates had a 28-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
A minute later Washington lost a fumble on a pitchout, setting up Najee Davisí 2-yard touchdown burst up the middle.
ěWe were clearly playing with these guys in the first half,î Eppinger said afterward. ěThen we lost that pitch to right side and everything went downhill. That killed us. Youíve got to play mistake-free football to beat a team like that.î
Only 2:54 remained when Robbins went 15 yards on a fourth-and-12 play for a rub-it-in touchdown. Newsomeís post-game comments indicated heís concerned about the Wonders, but insisted itís no time to panic.
ěI talked to them when I got here ó about the opportunity to win a championship ó and that goal doesnít change,î he said. ěWe still want to win the conference title. But tonight, we got beat by a team that win a championship itself.î

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