3AA Football Playoffs: Charlotte Catholic 35, A.L. Brown 9
By Josh Hoke
CHARLOTTE — As coach Mike Newsome did his best to console his team in a post-game huddle, one A.L. Brown fan walked over to another wearing a wry smile.
“We just can’t get over the hump,” he told his friend.
The hump has turned into a mountain. Charlotte Catholic defeated the Wonders in the postseason for the fifth time in seven years, erasing a two-point halftime deficit in a 35-9 win in the Class 3AA playoffs Friday.
The Wonders (12-2), who hadn’t lost since September, dominated the first half but settled for three field goals on three trips into the red zone. Though they led at the break, their inability to punch the ball in for touchdowns ultimately cost them in the second half, when the Cougars began to impart their will against the Wonders – again.
Catholic hammered Brown 45-7 in the playoffs last season, adding to postseason victories over the Wonders in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
“Really bad, really bad. I can’t even explain it,” Wonders receiver Keeon Johnson said, trying to explain the emotions of suffering another loss to the Cougars.
With Newsome leading the Wonders against the Cougars for the first time, Johnson and Co. were in position to write a new script in this rivalry. It looked for awhile like that might happen.
The Wonders led 9-7 at halftime, holding Catholic to 94 first-half yards – 42 of them came on a touchdown pass from quarterback Jack Brodowicz to tight end Mark Harrell – and running 18 more plays. However, Brown never recovered after Catholic took the second-half kickoff, drove 72 yards in 13 plays and scored the game-winning touchdown on a one-yard run from halfback Elijah Hood nearly seven minutes into the third quarter.
“I think we kind of beat on them a little bit until the third quarter,” Catholic coach Jim Oddo said. “They weren’t quite as effective. But they got bad breaks and we got good breaks. I think we’d have won anyway, but it would have been a lot closer.
“It’s always going to be a damn war,” Oddo said of playing the Wonders. “It just is. It was tonight.”
Catholic won the battle and the war, its Wing-T offense slowly wearing down the Wonders and its opportunistic, give-but-don’t-break defense making pivotal plays down the stretch.
The Cougars outgained the Wonders 198 to 107 in the second half and picked off Brown quarterback Brandon Eppinger, who was 16-of-28 passing, on three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter. On all three interceptions, Eppinger was trying to force the ball to Johnson, who was double-, triple- and even quadruple-teamed at times. Even though he caught eight passes for 113 yards, the attention he received severely limited the Wonders’ ability to make big plays in the passing game.
Brown tailback Kalif Phillips finished with 89 yards on 19 carries, but his teammates combined for minus-3 rushing yards. Still, the Wonders could have been the team moving on had they managed a few first-half touchdowns. Instead, they had to settle for field goals of 31, 31 and 20 yards from kick Erik Amaya.
“It’s frustrating as many times as we were able to get it in this year,” Newsome said. “To not be able to score when we were down there was frustrating, but you can’t doubt our kids. They gave us their all tonight, and I appreciate them for that.”
Johnson was equally frustrated with the Wonders’ red-zone woes.
“It gets you mad,” he said. “You do all this hard work trying to get there. You’re tired and stuff and you’re inside the 20 and can’t get a touchdown. You have to settle for a field goal. It’s was aggravating.
“I can’t really tell you honestly [what happened in the second half]. We just fell off. Just the small things you’re supposed to do didn’t happen for us.”
Catholic’s five-point, second-half lead grew late in the third quarter, when a scrambling Brodowicz hit David Herlocker for a 41-yard touchdown pass, pushing his team’s lead to 12 points. Hood’s 86-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter sealed the Wonders’ fate, and Nick George’s 69-yard interception return for a touchdown rubbed salt in the wound.
“It’s big motivation,” said Johnson, a junior. “We’re going to work 10 times harder even though the season is over. Even during basketball season, we’ll be out there getting better. We’ll be ready next season. We won’t lose. I promise you that much.”
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