Friday Night Hero: A.L. Brown's Brandon Eppinger
By Ronnie Gallagher
KANNAPOLIS — Mike Newsome had his A.L. Brown football team thinking Hickory Ridge was complimentary only of the Wonders’ run game, not the air attack.
Brandon Eppinger decided he had something to prove.
“That actually fueled the whole offense right there,” he said.
Especially the first-year quarterback. In a 47-0 Wonder rout, Eppinger shredded the Ragin’ Bulls, going 10-of-10 for 201 yards with five touchdown passes.
In the first half alone.
“I felt like I was on top of the world at the time,” Eppinger said of heading into halftime with a 47-point lead. “I knew we probably weren’t going to throw much in the second half.”
The Wonders didn’t throw at all. Eppinger’s final attempt with 8:26 left in the second period — a 33-yard TD connection to 6-foot-3 receiver Keeon Johnson — was the last throw A.L. Brown (8-1, 5-0) would need.
But it was quite a ride.
On Brown’s first play from scrimmage, Eppinger’s keen eye noticed something.
“We had Keeon, who is a great receiver and a Division I recruit, one-on-one with a guy,” he said. “I took that all day.”
It was a fade route, one of Eppinger’s favorites.
“He throws the fade very well and Keeon catches the fade very well,” Newsome said. “We thought we had an advantage with their defensive backs being a lot smaller than Keeon.”
The rout was on. Before the half was over, Johnson had grabbed three scores. Running back Kalif Phillips ran in twice with Eppinger passes. There was even a trick play where Eppinger fakes the dive, fakes the sweep, and as he put it, “I loft it up to Keeon.”
Plays like that impresses Newsome, who points out Eppinger is a senior grade-wise but a sophomore or young 11th-grader in this particular offense.
“He has progressed probably better than most guys in a first-year system,” the ebullient Newsome said.
Eppinger’s family moved here from Athens, Ga. He spent two weeks at South Rowan, transferred to Carson and then ended up in one of the best football towns in the state last spring. That was exciting.
“Oh man, it’s great,” Eppinger said. “A.L. Brown has a great tradition. It’s probably one of the top 10 football programs in the state. It’s awesome. I couldn’t wait. It reminded me a lot of Georgia. It’s pretty serious.”
The five TD passes tied a school record and continued Eppinger’s almost-flawless season. MaxPreps has him with the second highest passing rating in the state and 20th in the country, according to Newsome.
“If he keeps progressing throughout the playoffs, we’re going to be really something to deal with,” Newsome said.
Fans saw the Wonder talent on Friday night. Newsome ran nine backs. Combine that with Eppinger’s arm and Johnson’s hands and you have a deadly combination.
“They’re either going to be watching for the pass or watching for the run,” Eppinger said of future foes. “We can do both.”
Just ask Hickory Ridge.