Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 14, 2013
LANDIS — Weary South Rowan quarterback Aaron Kennerly slumped in front of his locker, battered, bruised, and looking like a middleweight who had just gone 15 rounds in Madison Square Garden with a heavyweight.
In a way, he had.
Down 28-7 after 13 one-sided minutes, South wound up losing 35-25 to Northwest Cabarrus, and the Raiders were knocking on the door again before they were turned away in the final minute.
“Even with 40-some seconds to go, our kids believed they were going to score, get an onside kick and score again to win the game,” South coach Jason Rollins said quietly. “That’s the kind of fight this team has.”
Kennerly completed 20 passes for 210 yards and ran for two TDs, and workhorse back Dominique Bost rushed 29 times for 149 yards as South moved the first-down chains 25 times.
South’s defense, with Ryan Bringle, Bryson Deaton and Antonio Hester making a lot of stops, played very well the last 29 minutes.
“We didn’t put them away,” Northwest coach Rich Williams said. “And then they fought us right down to the last second. They gave us all that we wanted.”
South (0-3) looked badly overmatched early.
Most of the film South coaches had seen on Northwest showed QB Brandon White in the shotgun with one running back and two wingbacks.
Instead, Northwest (3-0) came out looking like West Rowan in an old-fashioned I-formation, and with tailback Armon Dooley slicing South’s undersized defense to ribbons on old-school counter plays.
“We had prepared some for the I,” Rollins said. “But it’s not what we expected.”
If South showed a deep safety, Northwest ran the ball. If South showed man-to-man coverage, White threw, and the Trojans rolled up and down the field.
The first of White’s three TD passes came when he threw a sweet bootleg pass after faking a handoff to Dooley on what South thought was another counter. That made it 7-0, and when Will Poole recovered a South fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the visitors punched in an easy TD for a 14-0 lead.
“Instead of 7-0, it was 14-0, and now we were in a deep hole,” Rollins said. “We spent the rest of the night fighting out of it, but the thing I like about this team is that no one hung his head when things went bad. These guys were going to keep fighting, and I was really proud of that.”
South got on the board when Kennerly hit Travis Littlejohn with an 8-yard scoring pass on third-and-goal late in the first quarter, and Brennan Lambert’s PAT made it 14-7. Northwest, however, shrugged off South’s first resistance, scored twice in two minutes for 28-7 and had to be thinking blowout.
But South’s defense adjusted on the fly and did a better job of disguising coverage, and the combination of tough runs by Bost and Kennerly’s passes to Eric Stowe, Tyler Fuller and Peyton Penninger moved the ball steadily.
Kennerly scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter to cut the gap to 28-13. Then South adjusted its defensive alignment at halftime to roadblock Dooley’s counters. Dooley had 137 of his 182 yards in the first half.
Northwest went three-and-out to begin the second half, and South then put together a textbook, 17-play march that was capped by a 3-yard scoring burst by Bost. Now it was 28-19, and the Raiders had all the momentum in the world.
Dooley grabbed it back for Northwest. Lambert often kicks off into the end zone, but Dooley fielded his kickoff at the 5 and roared 62 yards to the South 33. That return led to the difference-making TD for the Trojans on White’s 22-yard pass to Poole.
“We were able to knock South’s momentum out a couple of times,” Williams said. “We played our best offense of the year in the first half, but we didn’t play as well defensively as we did in our other games. We have to get better.”
South has to get better too.
“You can’t get in a hole like we did,” Kennerly said. “But we showed we can face adversity and battle back from it, and we stayed in the game.”