Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 23, 2013
SPENCER — Even perfection has its price, but North Rowan wasn’t about to pay for anything Friday night.
The 13-0 Cavs are like carnival fighters these days, taking on all comers, daring them to blemish their unblemished season. Yesterday they initiated Black Mountain Owen into the bum-of-the-week club with an explosive offense and a defense that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“They’re a good team. You don’t win nine games if you’re not,” reasoned NR defensive coordinatior Stevie Williams. “But we knew the key was to stop No. 5, or at least make things difficult for No.5.”
North’s Big Green Nation turned its lonely eyes to Owen running back Jager Gardner, a junior who put up some pinball-machine numbers in the season’s first 11 games.
“We studied film on him,” said Hall of Pain linebacker Xaver Robinson. “We had a feeling that if we played him physical, he’d give up. I think that’s what happened. Once everybody started hitting him he started wearing down.”
Gardner may be a Rolls Royce in pads, but he was limited to 97 yards on 14 carries and never approached the gates to the end zone. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound junior, he ran the ball with vigor and conviction. But the Warhorses’ workhorse was — for the most part — harnessed by North’s bend-but-don’t-break defense.
“He’s really talented and our goal was to keep him under 100 yards,” said DB Mike Robinson. “You just had to wrap him up, gang-tackle and be physical.”
No one played more illuminating defense than chisled senior Xavier Robinson. At 6-1 and 215, he could be North’s designated no-shirt guy on a reality series.
“He’s a baby Ray Lewis,” Williams gushed. “Zay is a special player — a fast, strong leader. As he goes, this defense goes.”
North’s defense and the lively crowd were both going nuts after Robinson made the defensive play of the night early in the second quarter. The Cavs were nursing a 7-0 lead when he lit the place up like Jimi’s Stratocaster at Monterey.
“That was such a huge play,” teammate Wesley Jefferies said. “It made us all realize he had come to play tonight.”
The play unspooled when Gardner took a handoff from Owen quarterback Demarcus Harper and weaved his way from the 17 to the 23-yard line. Robinson came calling and delivered a loud, pancake hit near the left sideline, a solo tackle that ignited the crowd and left the Warhorses kicking in their stalls.
“Coach Williams always says tackling is all about taking the right angles,” Robinson chirped as the North locker room swayed with post-game enthusiasm. “That’s all I did. I took the right angle and read him the whole way. It’s got to be one of the hardest hits I’ve ever made.”
It certainly got Gardner’s attention.
“He got me pretty good,” he said after North’s own green monster helped press a pillow over Owen’s season. “But I think I needed that. I hadn’t gotten hit like that all season, so it kind of humbled me. None of it surprised me. They were big and fast, just like we saw on film.”
Gardner wasn’t the same runner after that. “We take pride in delivering the blow, not taking it,” said wrecking-ball defensive end Cecil McCauley. “We run off big plays — and that was a big one.”
If nothing else, it sent a compelling message. On a night when North’s unscored-upon streak was snapped at 15 quarters — and its defense was tested for only the third time this season — the Cavs nonetheless subdued another worthy challenger. Mike Robinson even drew a parallel to The Beatles, the 1960’s supergroup.
“Individually we’re pretty good,” he said. “But together we can be special. We benefit each other and fit together perfectly.”