Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 30, 2013

SPENCER — There’s no Hallmark card for what happened to North Rowan’s football team Friday night.
No touching, kind-hearted sentiment or flowery prose can ease the sting of a season-ending loss when it comes in the third round of the state playoffs.
“That’s just it,” coach Joe Nixon said after North’s previously unbeaten season was administered last rites. “When you get this far into it, everybody’s good. It’s unfortunate that we picked tonight to do some things we hadn’t done all year.”
North gave us 13 reasons to celebrate this fall, but yesterday’s 45-21 loss to Shelby wasn’t one of them. The visiting Lions devoured the Cavs like a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers.
“It’s not supposed to be over,” mustered almost-inconsolable senior Cecil McCauley. “They were everything we expected them to be. No surprises. It just happened and we can never go back and change it.”
No they can’t — and there are at least two significant explanations. The first relates to Shelby’s bone-crunching defense, which forced three North turnovers and limited 2,000-yard running back Jareke Chambers to 80 yards on 17 carrries. More importantly, the junior who spent three months deftly weaving his way through traffic like New York City cab driver never reached the end zone.
“We had to wrap him up and put him on the ground,” said Adam Webber, Shelby’s 255-pound defensive tackle. “We knew if we hit him a couple of times he’d probably lay down. I don’t think he’s been hit like this before.”
Sounds like these guys have had their way with other all-world running backs. Chambers expected Shelby to game-plan for him, but not to this extent.
“I was trying to be patient, but it wasn’t there,” he said after finishing the season with 31 touchdowns. “They were just so physical. That No. 4 (defensive lineman Clay Huskey) was flying in on every play. He was pretty hard to block.”
Chambers looked — and probably felt — like a racehorse whose gate wouldn’t open.
“He wanted to go, but they gang-tackled him,” said North quarterback Alexis Archie. “It seemed like someone was always wrapping him up and someone else would come in a clean up. That hasn’t happened all year.”
Perhaps that’s what made this outcome so surprising. Weren’t these the same Cavs who had swashbuckled and plundered their way through the regular season, then dismantled Surry Central and Black Mountain Owen in the first two rounds of the playoffs? The same team that averaged better than 40 points-per-game, posted three consecutive shutouts and held three other opponents to a single score?
“Yes, but if you’re playing the week of Thanksgiving, you’re playing someone capable of getting a ring,” Chambers said. “It was the most important game of the season and we played the worst game ever.”
Chambers shouldn’t be so hard on himself. There were lots of fingerprints on this season-ending mess. North’s secondary was a primary concern in the first half as Shelby quarterback R.J. George passed for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The back-breaker was a wide-open, 90-yard catch-and-run by junior Antwan Wright that gave the guests a 21-14 lead they never relinquished.
“That was just two really good players making a really good play,” Nixon downplayed. “Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other team.”
McCauley wasn’t in the mood for any of that. “This wasn’t the goal,” he said, fighting tears in the postgame locker room. “We were supposed to make it to the state championship game. This was all wrong.”
Or maybe it was all right. Offensive coordinator Ben Hampton focused on the positive aspects of North’s remarkable 2013 season.
“This team brought the pride back to Spencer,” he said. “We won 13 games, we set records, we spent weeks at the top of the polls. Nobody wants to hear it tonight, but it’s true. We had a great season.”
You can’t change that either.