Rucker’s two interceptions came at key moments

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 7, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Carson cornerback Jonathan Rucker had one of those negative moments DBs dread when the Cougars lost 25-22 to Northwest Cabarrus on Oct. 25.
Carson’s defense was one stop away from securing a big SPC win when Northwest executed a trick play.
The Trojans pulled off a double pass and beat Rucker deep to set up the winning TD. Rucker bit on a pass behind the line of scrimmage and went flying up to make the tackle. He took the bait, and suddenly receiver J.D. Murray was throwing the ball over his head downfield.
“We had them,” Rucker said with a sigh. “That night, after we lost to Northwest, I had jitters trying to sleep.”
It happens to every corner at some point. You’re gonna get beat. What matters is a short memory and being able to move on from it.
“A defensive lineman makes a mistake and it’s a first down,” Carson coach Joe Pinyan said. “A corner makes a mistake and everybody sees it, because it’s a touchdown. A corner has to be like that baseball player who strikes out three times but then hits a home run in the ninth inning. A corner has to keep going up to the plate to take his swings.”
Rucker kept going up to the plate Friday in Carson’s 21-13 SPC win against Hickory Ridge. He moved on about as well as it’s possible to move on from a tough night. He made two interceptions against the visiting Ragin’ Bulls, both in key situations.
Actually, Rucker is pretty sure he had three picks, although he only got credit for two. An interception he made right on the sideline was ruled an incompletion. He’s not sure if officials thought he was out of bounds or thought he didn’t have control of the ball.
The two that counted mattered a lot.
With Hickory Ridge threatening to score on its opening drive, Rucker made a leaping interception on a second-and-long play.
“I believe that’s the highest I ever jumped in my life,” Rucker said with a laugh.
His second interception went a long way toward sealing the game. Down eight points with 6:30 left to play, Hickory Ridge faced fourth-and-14 at the Carson 25. That’s when Rucker came up with a pick at the goal-line and returned the ball all the way to the Carson 40.
“Coach (Travis) Billings had us in Cover 3, and they threw deep to my third of the field,” Rucker said. “Tre Williams got pressure on the quarterback. That made him hurry the throw, and the ball was in the air long enough for me to make a break on it.”
That Williams and Rucker worked together on that key play was fitting because they are step-brothers. Rucker attended Northwest Cabarrus last school year, but a marriage made him part of Williams’ family and changed his residence.
“I’d heard Jonathan was coming to Carson, and I met him for the first time over the summer,” Pinyan said. “I’d heard he was more of a basketball player than football, but we started looking at him as a possible safety in the 7-on-7s and he looked pretty good.”
Rucker remembers that it was a 7-on-7 scrimmage against East Wilkes that changed his position.
“I was moving on the ball pretty fast that day, and the coaches told me they were going to put me at corner,” said Rucker, who is J-Rock to his teammates.
“I thought at first they were calling him J-Ruck, but it’s J-Rock,” Pinyan said.
The “J” is for his first name. The Rock part, Rucker explained, was because he can shoot the rock on the hardwood.
But for now his focus is on football.
Rucker’s first key play as a Cougar was an interception in the win against West Rowan.
Then he topped himself on Friday with a game-changing effort that included a pass breakup as well as the two picks.
“Sometimes you get lucky when a kid moves in,” Pinyan said. “He’s polite, he works hard all the time, and he’s turned out to be a good little corner.”