Prep Football: Hickory Ridge 21, Carson 0
By Mike London
HARRISBURG — Carson traveled to Hickory Ridge boasting Rowan County’s No. 2 rusher, No. 2 passer and No. 2 receiver and returned home lugging a goose egg.
Hickory Ridge, a team that was down 41-0 after a quarter against A.L. Brown a few days ago, stung the Cougars 21-0 in a Monday makeup that did nothing to boost Carson’s total of wins, stats or confidence.
“We really didn’t expect that,” said Carson coach Mark Woody. “We couldn’t block ’em. That’s the first team this year we couldn’t block.”
There’s a decent chance the Cougars (3-6) will see another unblockable squad at the end of this week. This Friday, they’ll finish their three-games-in-eight-days suicide mission in Mount Ulla against NPC bully West Rowan.
Monday marked the fourth try by Carson and Hickory Ridge to play the non-conference game. This time the weather was ideal, but the Cougars probably would’ve preferred lightning bolts and 10 inches of rain to trying to run the ball against the Ragin’ Bulls (4-5).
Coach Marty Paxton had no idea what he’d get from his team after it got blitzed by A.L. Brown, but the Bulls probably put together their most complete game all season.
“After Friday, there were a lot of things we needed to address, but there wasn’t any time because we had a game to play tonight,” Paxton said. “I did use the word ‘redemption’ a lot before this game, and our kids came out and played very well. I had nothing to complain about on either side of the ball.”
Carson got a pretty unbelievable effort from Jeremiah Smith, who may have set a world record for tackles by a defensive lineman.
Linebacker T.J. Smith and defensive end Nick Martin also were in on a lot of stops. Connor Bridges made an interception, which actually turned into bad news for the Cougars. Martin and Patrick Ratliff fell on fumbles.
But with the ball, Carson had one of those nights. Counting Bridges’ lost fumble at the end of his interception return, the Cougars turned it over five times. They also struggled to move the chains on third-and-1 all night. You can’t overcome that.
“Guys have to make plays — simple as that — and we didn’t make them,” Woody said.
Carson had scored in 38 consecutive games before Monday. The last time the Cougars had been shut out was by West Rowan in 2008.
Carson came in averaging a respectable 23 points and 182 rushing yards per game.
Carson had rushed for at least 100 yards in its previous 31 games, but it was held to 86 net ground yards by the Ragin’ Bulls, who sacked Carson QB Austin McNeill five times.
HR lineman Demetry Benton, a junior listed at 186 pounds, was the primary culprit in Carson’s demise.
“We couldn’t catch him to block him,” Woody said.
Benton got sacks and relentlessly chased down quarterbacks, tailbacks and fullbacks — anything that moved.
“Since about our third game, he’s played lights out like that,” Paxton said. “He’s not the biggest young man, but he can really fly.”
The misery started early.
Carson’s first offensive series included two rushing attempts for losses, followed by a third-and-long interception.
The only momentum Carson enjoyed lasted those five seconds or so that Bridges was returning the interception that looked like it would stop Hickory Ridge’s opening push. But when he fumbled, the Ragin’ Bulls took advantage of their second chance and scored on a 22-yard pass by Nick Tyson to Jason Eury.
Carson had a chance to answer before the end of the quarter, but with the ball at the Hickory Ridge 41, the Cougars got stacked up for no gain on third-and-1 — and again on fourth-and-1.
After HR defensive lineman Josh Chapman stripped McNeill of the ball on a passing attempt, Tyson found Eury for another score late in the first half for a 14-0 lead.
Two 15-yard penalties against Hickory Ridge — roughing the passer, followed by pass interference — put the Cougars on the HR 24 in the final seconds of the half, but again the Cougars were turned away.
Down two TDs, Carson had to try to pass its way back into the game in the second half, but the turnovers piled up.
And then it was 21-0 after Trent Jordan scored for Hickory Ridge on a 9-yard jaunt early in the final quarter.
McNeill managed to throw for 116 yards, but Hickory Ridge’s pass rush was serious.
“I thought McNeill did everything he could,” Woody said. “But the kid got beat up tonight. He got hit in the chops every time he tried to throw.”
Woody tipped his cap to Hickory Ridge. The Bulls were the superior team.
“Every year that we’ve played them, it’s been one of our most physical games,” Woody said. “ It was tough playing two games in such a short time, but that’s no excuse. They played Friday too.”