Prep Football: University Christian (Fla.) 28, North Rowan 15
By Marny Hendrick
MOUNT ULLA — Every high school game has a defining moment and for the North Rowan Cavaliers it was literally just that: a moment.
North started strong, was tied 7-7 with University Christian and had the visitors from Florida back on their own 40 with two minutes left in the half. Then came that moment.
“It was kind of like one of those big hot air balloons floating away, “ said Cavalier head Coach Tasker Fleming of the turn of events that ultimately led to a 28-15 loss.
The Christians drove 60 yards to notch a 2 yard TD dive by Jeremiah Hamlin with 59.6 second left and a 13-7 lead. North opted not to run down the clock and had to punt the ball back with 32 ticks left. After a 30 yard pass to tight end Marquis Haynes, QB Jeff Vining found a leaping Hamlin in the end zone as the clock turned to 0:00. Hamlin added a two point conversion run as UC suddenly led 21-7.
“That gave us a boost of confidence” said first year UC Coach David Penland. “We threw the ball more today than we normally do, but you take what the defense gives you.”
Penland’s squad left their Jacksonville campus early Friday morning and spent the night in Belmont as guest of the First Baptist Church. They pulled into Mt. Ulla early Saturday for an 11 a.m. kick-off with North, the first of a interstate football twinbill hosted by West Rowan’s Falcons. The 4 pm battle between West and Rock Hill power South Pointe had top billing for the day but North and University Christian put on a good show.
It was an unusual circumstance for the Cavaliers as they had to travel from Spencer to West Rowan as the “visiting” team for a morning kick-off against a squad from Florida. Fleming noted it as the first morning game of his 27 years of coaching but “once the whistle blows it is just football … the time of day does not matter.”
The Cavs came out strong with an opening 71 yard drive behind the running of quarterback T.J. Allen and halfback Malik Jones. Allen capped the 11-play drive with a 6-yard rollout for a quick 7-0 North lead.
The North defense also stepped up to hold UC on downs at the 34 as Cecil McCauley sacked Vining for no gain. Early in the second period UC had a major threat with first-and-goal at the the 6 but Hamlin lost the ball stretching for the goal. Kenyatta Thomas pounced on the fumble at the two for North.
The Christians (2-0) did manage to knot the score at 7-7 midway in the second period as Hamlin scored the first of his 3 TD’s from the three.
UC’s Vining connected with his favorite receiver Jensen Sloshak (5 catches for 132 yards) on a 63 yard bomb in the third period to set up their last TD. Kyle Smoot ran in from the 5 to make it 28-7 on the next play.
North played a solid second half on both sides of the ball and closed the gap late in the 4th period as Allen scrambled 17 yards for a TD at 1:02. Xavier Robinson swept right for a two point conversion to close out the scoring.
Allen, the junior signal caller, felt the Cavs wasted some good opportunities.
“We really need to cut down on our mistakes”, said Allen. “I made some mistakes today but I will definitely have those corrected by next week.”
Next week for the 1-3 Cavaliers means opening their Yadkin Valley 1-A slate against a talented South Stanly team on Friday.
“If we are not ready to play, I promise we will be” stated Allen.
Despite the loss, Fleming saw a lot of positives for this team.
“To be truthful, we had a lot of really good moments on offense today but we just have to learn how to finish drives, how to get it in the end zone.”
The University Christian team heads back to Jacksonville to begin play in the their 2A division. The Christians are a private school affiliated with University Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Their upper school enrollment is less than 300 but they have a strong football heritage with five state titles since 1987.
Their top player this season and on Saturday is free safety and slotback Dwayne Norman, a 4.5 speedster who has committed to Duke for next season. He ran for 44 yards and had a half-dozen key tackles. He also planned to travel to Durham after the game to take in the Blue Devils against Stanford and Andrew Luck.
Hamlin had 48 yards rushing to go with his 3 TD’s while Vining passed for 187 yards for the game.
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