Prep Football: North overcomes adversity, wins opener
By Mike London
SPENCER — Two touchdowns were called back by penalties and two sure touchdown passes were dropped, but North Rowan stayed the course and beat East Rowan, 28-14, in the season opener for both teams.
North, which beat East for the sixth straight time, led only 10-7 at the break, despite completely dominating the first half, and the Cavaliers actually fell behind, 14-10, in the third quarter. But they kept coming, and eventually their domination of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball translated to a hard-earned victory.
“No one plays a perfect game on opening night,” said North defensive end Zion DeBose, an Appalachian State commit who was virtually unblockable. “Mistakes are going to happen. But when they do happen, you just have to bite your mouthpiece and keep on pushing.”
North Rowan QB Corbin Smith didn’t have a fantastic game statistically, but he was poised, he was on target, and he kept his cool through the drops by his teammates and the torrential raindrops and lightning that delayed the start of the game for more than an hour.
“Corbin played one of the best games he’s ever played,” North coach Ben Hampton said. “We had our first pass play scripted and Corbin made the throw for what would’ve been a touchdown, but we just didn’t finish the play. But our offense, except for a few crazy penalties and a few drops, did all we asked, and our defense was every bit as fierce as we’d hoped. The defensive line figures to be the backbone of of our team. They were stout.”
North scored first. A sack of East Rowan quarterback Tate Houpe by DeBose and a short punt provided field position, and Jacob Young’s field goal with 3:52 left in the first quarter provided a 3-0 lead.
North pushed ahead 10-0 in the second quarter after the Cavaliers’ defense pinned the Mustangs deep again, and North started a drive at the East 41.
Smith made the key play of that first TD drive himself, scrambling for 11 yards on a third-and-8 to set up first-and-goal. East tried to stave off the Cavaliers, but on fourth-and-goal, Desmond Gray bounced off the only tackler who had a chance and turned the right corner for the TD that made it 10-0.
Late in the second quarter, the Mustangs were still looking for their initial first down, but return man Wesley Porter provided a spark, hauling a punt back past midfield. Then Houpe hit Franklin Downing for a 40-yard score. Downing kept his balance on a fine run after the catch and got a great block from Sam Wall to put the ball in the end zone.
Despite being overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage most of the first half, that one positive play allowed East to trail by just 10-7 at halftime.
East struck suddenly in the third quarter when Porter, mostly a DB, made an appearance on offense and caught a 34-yard strike from Houpe to give the Mustangs a 14-10 lead. Porter got loose on a wheel route.
“I thought we had good matchups with our receivers against their DBs, and on that play their corner bit when Downing ran a slant, and I was open,” Porter said. “The problem we had was that North has so many great athletes on the defensive line. The matchup with those guys was tougher for us.”
One of the big stories of the game was that East back Max Wall was on the verge of breaking his school’s career rushing record that has been held by Cal Hayes Jr. since 2001.
Wall needed only 67 yards but didn’t get close to that. He had no daylight at all. His only two impact plays were an interception early in the game and a tough run for a first down on a faked punt.
“We did a good job against all of East Rowan’s skill guys because I think they’ve got skill guys who can match up with anyone in the county,” Hampton said.
The TD pass to Porter gave North a chance to falter. The Cavaliers had dominated, but they were behind on the scoreboard, and that can be frustrating. But this is a more mature North team than last year’s.
“There were some times in this game where we could’ve gotten down,” Smith said. “But we had good leaders out there. We knew we had the better team. We just had to execute and keep the intensity up.”
A’Jon Jones returned the kickoff after Porter’s TD to the East 19. East didn’t break — with Porter registering a key sack on a blitz — but North didn’t panic. Young kicked his second field, and the Mustangs lead was cut to 14-13.
Then Smith and receiver Alonzo Sirleaf turned in the game’s decisive play, with North facing third-and-6 at the East 39. Smith spotted an open Sirleaf, and Sirleaf more than made up for dropping a certain TD toss earlier. Three East defenders bounced off Sirleaf, as he completed a 39-yard scoring play that put North ahead for good at 19-14 late in the third quarter.
“Sirleaf has got a lot of talent,” North assistant Nick Means said. “He’s just starting to realize how good he can be.”
Barely a minute later, DeBose recovered a fumble in the East backfield, and Jayden Jones broke a 30-yard scoring run. Leading 26-14, the Cavaliers were headed for victory.
The only points of the fourth quarter came when East was moved back to the shadow of its goal line by an intentional grounding call and DeBose made a tackle in the end zone for a safety.
Jaleel Webster, who rushed for 97 yards, was the workhorse as the Cavaliers pounded away at the Mustangs — and at the clock — in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys were just out-muscling them upfront,” Webster said. “This win puts us on a good track for the season.”
The play of North’s defense was no shock. That North ran and threw as effectively as it did was a bit of a surprise, as the offense had sputtered in scrimmages.
“Very proud of what our offense did tonight,” DeBose said. “Great execution, great intensity. They did their jobs.”
N. Rowan 28, E. Rowan 14
East 0 7 7 0—14
North 3 7 16 2—28
NR — Young FG 25, 3:52, 1st
NR — Desmond Gray 3 run (Young kick), 6:57, 2nd
ER — Downing 40 pass from Houpe (Houpe kick), 2:26, 2nd
ER — Porter 34 from Houpe (Houpe kick), 8:08, 3rd
NR — Young FG 36, 5:45, 3rd
NR — Sirleaf 39 pass from C. Smith (kick failed), 1:07, 3rd
NR — J. Jones 30 run (Young kick), 0:00, 3rd
NR — Safety, DeBose tackle in end zone, 5:20, 4th
First downs 6 18
Passing yards 129 104
Rushes-yards 20-11 36-248
Passing 10-22-0 8-22-1
Comp-Att-Int 18-30-0 17-24-0
Punts 6-31.0 3-30.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 7-75 11-90
Rushing — ER: M. Wall 11-23; Broaddus 3-7; S. Wall 2-(minus-4); Houpe 4-(minus 15). NR: Webster 15-97; J. Jones 10-88; C. Smith 6-22; Perry 2-21; Mitchell 2-18; Desmond Gray 1-2.
Passing — ER: Houpe 10-19-0, 111; J. Smith 1-3-0, 18; M. Wall 0-1-0. NR: C. Smith 8-22-1, 104; Mitchell 0-0-0, 0.
Receving — ER: Downing 4-79; S. Wall 2-5; Hardin 2-4; Porter 1-34; Broaddus 1-7; M. Wall 1-0. NR: Desmond Gray 4-29; Sirleaf 3-54; Webster 1-21
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