Prep Football: Carson 20, East Rowan 7

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011

By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Many potential scenarios raced through Carson coach Mark Woody’s closely buzzed head with the Cougars facing fourth-and-1 at their 43 and clinging to a 13-7 lead against East Rowan with three minutes to play.
Carson is always confident it can convert fourth-and-1 against anybody. That’s who the Cougars are — large, strong, physical guys who are coming right through your grill out of the I-formation.
But East’s defensive unit had been so feisty and disruptive most of Friday night, that Woody declined being macho and played the percentages. He called upon punter Chris Barnhardt to flip the field and trusted his defense.
He got more than he bargained for. Barnhardt’s soaring punt was mishandled and Patrick Ratliff made the game-sealing recovery for the Cougars at the East 18. Carson tacked on an Austin McNeill-to-K.J. Pressley TD with 44 seconds left and survived 20-7 in the NPC opener for both teams.
“I was so close to going for it on that fourth down,” Woody said. “Thank good- ness, we didn’t. If they stop us, who knows. We feel fortunate to win.”
Under the circumstances, it was a good win for the Cougars (2-2). Their receiving corps is banged up, tailback Travis Abbitt is sidelined by knee and shoulder hurts, and Barnhardt, who’s been a key cog for four years, is playing despite a torn knee ligament. Woody was short-handed enough that lineman Myquon Stout played some fullback.
“We can’t get into the spread without receivers and you need healthy running backs to run the I,” Woody said. “We had to be pretty vanilla.”
Freshman tailback Brandon Sloop carried Carson’s offense, slugging out 170 yards and two second-quarter TDs.
Sloop rushed 22 times for 107 yards in the second half after the Cougars adjusted their blocking to deal with creative stuff the Mustangs were throwing at them.
“They were blitzing linebackers all over, bringing a lot of pressure from the outside,” Barnhardt said. “We had better communication in the second half on our blocking assignments. Very tough game, but we stayed together.”
The general assumption is that East (0-5) is a bad team because it was clobbered by Salisbury and Concord. Woody disagrees.
“Everyone kept telling me all week how bad they were,” he said. “But that’s now what the film was showing.”
Neither team made a single first down in the first quarter.
Carson was stubbornly trying to establish Sloop between the tackles, and East got disruptive plays from a host of defenders — Dustin Mowery, Tyler L’hommedieu, Dalton Bost and Madison Hedrick — just to name a few.
“We were aggressive,” said L’hommedieu, a junior linebacker. “We did things they really weren’t expecting and did them well.”
Mowery, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound DB prowled all over East’s backfield, racking up tackles for loss and a sack.
“We were focused, played hard,” Mowery said. “We stopped ’em good most of the night. Rocked some heads.”
East had just one productive offensive play in the first half, but Jordan Phillips’ swing pass to Calvin Edwards produced a 45-yard gain to the Carson 3, and Phillips was able to score on a sneak.
Carson answered with a 67-yard scoring drive. Then it grabbed a 13-7 lead after Dontae Gilbert picked off a pass to set up Sloop’s second TD.
Carson lost two fumbles in the third quarter, but East failed to capitalize.
When Casey Padgett recovered yet another Carson fumble at the Cougar 36 with seven minutes left to play, East had one more chance. The Mustangs made it to the 25, but a killer penalty and an errant shotgun snap that cost 17 yards stalled the drive.
East DB Tyler Lloyd stopped Sloop on third down to force Carson’s final punt, but Ratliff’s recovery of the muff ended East’s hopes.
“Everyone we play is bigger, stronger and faster, but we moved guys around and did good things defensively,” East coach Chad Tedder said. “I was proud of how we fought, but we have to limit penalties (12 for 114 yards) to become a good team. Penalties killed us. All night, it was one step forward, 10 steps back.”