Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 14, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — A.L. Brown coach Mike Newsome couldn’t stop smiling. Sure his team has flaws, but his team also has a lot of character, a combination he can live with.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys,” Newsome said after Friday’s 45-39 comeback win over Berry Academy. “To play the game that we did last week and then play the game that we did this week … I love the guys. I really do. And they are just great kids. I love being around them.”
Newsome feels that way despite the frustrations he and his staff must have with a youthful squad that plays with inconsistency. The Wonders shut out Weddington with one of their best defensive efforts in recent memory, but that seemed like a distant memory in the first half Friday, when the Cardinals gashed Brown through the air and on special teams.
Yet, the Wonders secured a win with late heroics. An errant punt snap with 2:38 left led to a Brown safety, tying the game at 39-all. Taking over deep in Berry territory, Wonders tailback Casey Walker scored the winning points on a six-yard touchdown run with one minute left.
The Wonders improved to 3-1, heading into their off week with a lot of confidence. They’ll open conference play on Sept. 27 against North Mecklenburg.
Berry nearly pulled a big upset, a point that coach Andrew Howard used to console his team following the game. The Cardinals were led by quarterback Omar Baker, who was 19-of-35 for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, he and his teammates were held to just seven second-half points, finishing with just 336 offensive yards after compiling 252 in the first half.
“We just needed to tackle and make plays,” Berry coach Andrew Howard said. “They just kept it on the ground [and slowed the game down]. But if we tackle, we’d have been fine. We stopped them a couple of times, but we couldn’t capitalize on it. It just didn’t happen our way.”
That, according to Newsome, was his team weathering its early mistakes.
“We just played,” Newsome said of the Wonders in the second half. “According to the defensive coaches, we made some mistakes. We got up with them at halftime and discussed some mistakes they were making. We didn’t make them in the second half. Our defensive coordinator said if we had done things in the first half we were supposed to, we wouldn’t even have had an issue.”
The issue was that Brown’s defense struggled mightily in the first half. The Wonders gave up 7.4 yards per play, watching Berry rack up huge numbers on offense and another 176 on five kick returns before halftime.
The Cardinals weren’t much better. In fact, both defenses were porous. Brown finished with 259 first-half yards, a balanced effort that included 134 on the ground and 125 through the air from quarterbacks Andrew Ramirez and Damon Johnson. Sophomore tailback Sandon McCoy rushed for 51 yards and two first-half scores, helping the Wonders dominate time of possession.
However, their defense couldn’t get off the field against the high-octane Cardinals. Baker was 10-of-19 passes for 159 yards and four touchdowns before the break, tossing two scores each to electric receivers Victor Harris and Kelvin Brim.
“After looking at film, we knew [big plays] were there,” Howard said. “Whatever they gave us, we took it.”
Brim also gutted the Wonders on special teams. He had two kickoff returns for 89 yards in the first half, including a 73-yard score. Receiver Thomas Gordon added a 76-yard return that set up an early second-quarter touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 19-18 lead.
However, the Cardinals failed to get the defensive stops in the second half to continue that momentum. And the Wonders did, holding Berry to 2.7 yards per play and minus-5 rushing yards in the second half.
Brown, on the other hand, rushed for 262 yards in the game, watching both McCoy and Walker run for more than 80 yards.