Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 10, 2011
MOUNT ULLA — If North Rowan’s football team learned anything from Saturday’s uneven loss, it’s that you can’t pick your spots.
You can’t push hard on one play and take the next one off. That was the message assistant coach James House imparted on the Cavaliers after they unceremoniously unravelled in their much-ballyhooed showdown with Jacksonville’s University Christian.
“Especially on defense,” two-way lineman Will Robertson noted at West Rowan, where North dropped the opener of a morning-afternoon doubleheader. “We’d make stop after stop after stop and then give up a big play. And those big plays, they all seemed to hurt us.”
North may have been a quart low in the grit department, but you wouldn’t have guessed it after junior quarterback T.J. Allen steered the Cavs 64 yards for a score on the game’s opening drive.
“We were focused on what we had to do,” he said.
What followed is probably more important. North failed to maintain that focus and seemingly lost its mojo after the first quarter. The visiting Christians, who proved to be educated guests, certainly noticed.
“I think they had a problem focusing,” said Dwayne Norman, a do-it-all senior who has verbally committed to play safety for Duke. “Seemed like there was a lot of confusion in their huddle. And they didn’t utilize their speed enough. They have a lot of fast, hard-nosed skill players, but they kept going to the same one or two guys.”
North had its share of memorable, Kodak moments. There was Allen’s 7-yard swivel into the end zone for the early lead, marking the first time the Cavs had scored on their initial possession this season.
“That elevated our expectations,” coach Tasker Fleming said. “We knew we could move the ball against this team.”
Moments later defensive back Kenyatta Thomas foiled a UC scoring threat when he recovered a fumble on the 2-yard line early in the second period. And in the third quarter Malik Ford — North’s 6-foot-7 power forward at defensive end — absolutely waffled UC quarterback Jeff Vining for an 8-yard loss.
But other than that, North’s performance on this sun-drenched day was mostly forgettable. UC scored three touchdowns in the second period, including two in the final minute of the half, and never looked back.
“We turned it all back,” said North DB Malik Jones. “We fell apart. Today was all about momentum. And when the momentum goes, it’s hard to get it back.”
The game was not without controversy. The Christians had marched for TD’s on two straight possessions and were challenging again as the first half ticked to a close. On second-and-10 from his own 30 Vining spiraled a long pass toward Jeremiah Hamlin on the left side. Thomas, North’s senior cornerback, appeared to make a clean defensive play as the pass sailed incomplete. Yet appearances, we all realize, can be deceptive and Thomas was called for pass interference. Fleming asked the officials for an explanation but was told he’d have to use his final timeout for that.
“So it was never explained,” he said. “I guess they thought he pushed off. My kids will say that was the difference in the game. I say there were a lot of other things we could have controlled, but we didn’t”
Hamlin — a junior who has drawn luke-warm interest from Vanderbilt, Delaware and West Virginia — said he felt Thomas’ hand on his back as he went airborne for the ball.
“I was running a wheel, trying to find some open space up the field,” he said. “I think (Thomas) just stopped running. When I turned and tried to get level to the ball, his hand touched my back. I definitely felt it.”
Three snaps later UC had a 21-7 lead and the Cavs — well, they had a problem. An hour-and-half later they had unspectacular 1-3 non-conference season behind them. As the YVC schedule looms they appear to have more questions than answers — and Fleming has work to do.
“In less than 30 seconds this game got away from us,” he said. “You could say it was seven seconds, that’s how fast it happened. But we can’t dwell on the day too long because we’ve got a conference race to worry about. We’ve got to get better.”
How well that goes will depend on how well they pick their spots.