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Running man: Speed on the ground helps Carson beat South Rowan

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

LANDIS — There’s no need to start printing playoff tickets yet, but Carson’s football team was certainly encouraged by its performance in Friday’s season-opening win at South Rowan.

The Cougars marched a seemingly endless brigade of running backs through the line of scrimmage and gained more than 400 total yards in a 35-13 non-conference triumph.

“Once we picked things up, this got amazing,” senior center Nick Klein said. “I think we set the tone for our conference. They’ll see this tonight and know we’re no joke.”

Winning coach Joe Pinyan’s head was likely spinning after the Cougars utilized seven running backs and punctured South’s defense for 362 yards on the ground.

“We’ve got a bevy of running backs back there who just keep running hard,” he said. “We can alternate with different people there and helps us because we can keep them fresh. We kind of stunk up that first quarter, but after that we started grinding and we never really stopped.”

Carson had a subpar first half and still emerged with a 20-7 lead. It lost a fumble when Michael Gonsalves had the ball stripped and recovered by South’s Austin Barnes late in the second quarter. It had a pair of Eric Turnbull extra-point attempts blocked by South’s elastic defenders. And it was flagged three times for penalties before the game was three-minutes old.

Not surprisingly, the Cougars found themselves down 7-0 when Demarcus Blackwell took a handoff from quarterback Drew Huffman and burst into the end zone on a 5-yard scoring play as the second period unfolded.

“I saw a lot of positives on both sides of the ball,” South coach Daniel Yow said. “We were fine until they had the big run for a touchdown — and that’s one of the things we preach about on defense all the time. No big plays. It kind of took the wind out of our sails for the next couple of series.”

The big run came courtesy of Carson halfback Jerry Cipres, a 180-pound senior who’s running style is part Corvette and part 18-wheeler. One snap after South jumped ahead, he took a pitchout and motored 80 yards down the right sideline to pull the Cougars within 7-6.

“I just had to read the block,” he said after gaining 108 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. “It’s something we practice every practice. The hole was there and all I had to do was hold onto the ball.”

Pinyan had a front-row seat from the Carson sideline. “Hunter Courtney gave him a little bit of a block and (Cipres) made a great move to get by him. Jerry made a good, good cut, so I think he earned that one mostly by himself. I mean, he just ran through a guy. That was a big play for us.”

South never recovered. The Raiders fell behind 14-7 on another big-gainer — Justin Smith’s 62-yard TD pass to wideout A.J. Jackson midway through the second period. And when South failed to convert a fourth-and-2 play from its own 40-yard line, Carson used a short field to mount a two-touchdown lead on a 1-yard plunge by Gonsalves.

“It just got away from us,” said Yow. “They had the big run, then the big pass and then a third one.”

Amplifying South’s troubles was the first of South’s three turnovers with just 25 seconds remaining in the first half. Facing second-and-goal from the Carson 7, Huffman rolled to his right, approached the gates to the end zone and promptly fumbled the ball over the goal line. Carson’s Juan Espinoza confiscated the loose ball.

“Two hands on the ball is stuff you teach in eighth grade,” Yow said. “Drew’s been taught that. But it was his first varsity game and he was trying to make something happen. He just lost the ball. You can’t be mad at the kid for trying to get in, but we’ve all got to work on fundamentals.”

Huffman did pass for 222 yards, but he lost a key fumble and threw two second-half interceptions. His 24-yard TD pass to Jarron Hines cut South’s deficit to 28-13 early in the fourth quarter. He spent much of the evening running for cover and was sacked four times by Carson defensive tackle Teolyn Woodruff.

“It was all determination here,” said Woodruff, a 6-3, 230-pound senior. “We outperformed them. All that work we did in the off-season paid off tonight.”

And while South collected 15 first downs — two more than Carson — it finished with just 98 yards rushing.

“I’ve been in this business a long time,” Pinyan said with a post-game smile. “I learned a long, long time ago — they can get as many yards and first downs as they want, but if they don’t get in that end zone you have a chance to win the football game. Our defense bent but they didn’t break.”

NOTES: Carson seniors Thairell Parks and Gavin McCulloh had interceptions. … South went 1-for-5 on fourth-down conversion attempts. … Hines caught six passes for the Raiders while teammate Cameron Hurd made three grabs for 80 yards. … Carson hosts Salisbury and South visits East Rowan next Friday.

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