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SPENCER — It was 14-14 in the second quarter, still anyone’s game, and North Rowan players got excited about a nice punt by Dylan Auten that pinned Shelby back at its 10-yard line.
The Cavaliers’ exuberance lasted for about 10 seconds — the length of time it took for Antwan Wright to get behind North’s defense and for quarterback R.J. George to hit him in stride for a 90-yard touchdown.
From that point forward, Shelby dominated, and the Golden Lions thumped the previously unbeaten Cavaliers 45-21 in a third-round 2A playoff game played at Eagle Stadium.
“It was the best pass I’ve ever thrown in my life,” George said. “But it was also one of the easiest passes I’ve ever had because my protection was great and my receiver was wide open.”
Shelby (10-4) made plays. North, ranked No. 1 in 2A since mid-September, didn’t.
“Shelby had a great gameplan, and they executed it,” North coach Joe Nixon said outside a somber locker room. “We haven’t turned it over a lot this year, but they forced us into mistakes, and things just snowballed on us.”
North (13-1) finished with a school record for victories, but it self-destructed with penalties in a disastrous stretch during which the Golden Lions ran off 21 straight points to turn a 14-7 deficit into a 28-14 halftime lead.
North produced 15 first downs before halftime with its short passing game, but running the ball against the Golden Lions was a difficult task, even for 2,000-yard rusher Jareke Chambers, who was limited to 80 yards on 17 carries.
“I’m a former defensive coordinator, and you always have to stop the run first,” Shelby coach Lance Ware said. “We gang-tackled Chambers before he could get started. We didn’t let him get into space much.”
North QB Alexis Archie threw for 215 yards, including 110 to Sakil Harrison and 72 to Darrell Taylor.
Archie’s 1-yard scoring run in the first quarter put the Cavaliers on the board first, and his 45-yard TD strike to Taylor gave North its last lead at 14-7 with 9:21 left in the second quarter.
Archie’s 19-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter accounted for North’s only points of the second half.
Shelby won this battle at the line of scrimmage.
“They were the more physical team,” Chambers said. “They played their game, and we just got outplayed.”
Archie was getting heat almost every time he threw, while George could have checked his phone for text messages as his receivers ran their routes.
Shelby is known for its passing — George threw his 27th and 28th TD strikes — but the Golden Lions’ ability to run the ball between the tackles hurt North more than anything.
“What we worked on all week was our running game,” George said. “The plan was to be more physical then them — to just push the ball down their throat.”
Shelby rushed for 239 yards, as many as North’s has given up all year, and the Lions threw for 244. North had only allowed 300 yards of offense twice this season. Shelby rolled for 483.
North needed positive things to happen early in the second half to regain momentum and confidence, and it didn’t happen.
North’s first two offensive possessions to open the half ended with a lost fumble and an interception by Shelby’s Robert Brown.
“Great season and very proud of our football team, but it was just not our night,” Nixon said.
North lost standout linebacker Xavier Robinson to an injury in the third quarter, and a field goal by Shelby’s Luke Hayek put the Cavaliers down three scores at 31-14.
There was a flicker of hope in the bleachers when Archie threw his touchdown pass to Coney to cut the deficit to 31-21, but Jaquavis Brooks answered barely a minute later with a 47-yard scoring run for one of his three TDs, and it was over.
“Our guys have been criticized for not being able to finish against good teams, but we finished against a very good one tonight,” Ware said. “We were physical and we ran the football. If you get this far, it gets cold and it’s important to be able to run the ball.”
Ware said

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