Carson sets records in 57-30 win over North Iredell

Published 4:12 am Saturday, October 6, 2018

By Marny Hendrick

sports@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — Heading into Friday night’s high school football game, the Carson Cougars were a team in search of a long overdue win.

Senior Jerry Cipres and the powerful Cougar running game made sure it happened.

Cipres, a senior running back, pounded out 200 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns to lead a high scoring, 57-30 homecoming win over visiting North Iredell.

Cipres’ performance was the highlight of the night for a record-setting effort by the Carson offense as it set new school records for points scored and rushing yards — a remarkable 442 on 40 carries. That works for an eye-popping, 11 yards per carry average.

“It most definitely feels amazing,” said Cipres, a 5-9, 180 pounder, who basically doubled his rushing totals for the season in one game. “I just want to put forth extra effort in every game and help the team. I always have to give credit to the offensive line. They made the holes and I just had to read their blocks.”

Cipres’ night featured two first-quarter TDs, including a 59-yarder that sparked Carson to a quick 21-0 lead. He also added a 51-yard, tackle-breaking run to give the Cougars some breathing room, midway in the third quarter — plus, he had a 55-yard TD run called back by a holding penalty.

The game was the North Piedmont Conference opener for both teams as Carson snapped a four-game losing skid to improve to 3-4 overall and 1-0 in the NPC. North Iredell, coming off back-to-back winless seasons, came in at 3-3, but were no match for the high scoring Cougars.

“I thought our kids rose to the occasion tonight and played hard all night,” said winning coach Joe Pinyan. “When you play the tough non-conference schedule we’ve played, our kids were ready for this kind of game, where they could break loose. Our non-conference schedule was our pre-season and now we are in our five-game regular season. If we can win some conference games, we could sneak into the playoffs.”

The way the game started, a rout seemed imminent as Carson jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead. Cipres capped the opening drive with a 7-yard run. The Cougars got the ball right back at the Raiders 24 on a blocked punt by Rhyan Johnson. On the next play, quarterback Justin Smith found receiver AJ Jackson all alone in the end zone for the TD pass and a 14-0 lead.

After another North punt, the Cougars moved 68 yards in just three plays as Cipres broke through a big hole and raced 59 yards for the 21-0 lead after one quarter.

Instead of folding, the Raiders went almost exclusively to the air as junior quarterback Joe Gaither connected on two scoring passes to receiver B.J. Blanton, to trim the lead to 21-14. The second one came after an interception when Gaither hit Blanton with a 40-yard scoring strike, just 23 seconds before halftime.

The North Iredell rally set the stage for what Pinyan called “…the biggest play of the game.”

The Raiders had momentum and were set to receive the second-half kickoff, so Pinyan and the Cougars decided to take a gamble. Carson opened the second half with a surprise on-side kick that Cougar Teolyn Woodruff recovered at the 47-yard line. The gamble led to an eight-play drive that included a clutch fourth- down conversion run by Cipres to the 8-yard line. He scored on the next play to make the lead 28-14.

“That was definitely a momentum swing for us,” Pinyan said, as he admitted he changed his mind several times about the surprise kickoff between the locker room and the sideline. “It was a big gamble, but our kids responded well and made some big conversions on the drive to score.”

What followed next was a flurry of big-play scoring drives by both sides that posted a lot of crooked numbers on the scoreboard. The Raiders responded to the second half opening TD by Carson by returning the kickoff 50 yards, then a 41-yard pass from Gaither to Hunter Bolden at the Cougars’ 4. Big halfback Donya’ Stevenson scored from the 1-yard line, cutting the deficit to 28-22.

Carson took one play to answer back as a short kickoff set them up at the 49. On the next play, Cipres broke free up the middle for a 51-yard TD run and a 36-22 lead. Carson forced a punt, then drove for a back-breaking score with just over two minutes left in the third period. CP Pyle capped the drive with a 31-yard sprint up the middle to expand the lead to 43-22.

The Raiders got within two scores midway in the fourth period when Gaither and Blanton teamed up for the third time in the game on a 9-yard scoring pass to make it 43-30. That capped a 31o-yard passing night for Gaither (21 for 31) and a 107-yard receiving night for Blanton on six catches and three scores.

Carson put the icing on the cake in the final eight minutes on a pair of scoring runs by Hunter Courtney. The first was a 16-yard run to make the score 50-30, then an 8-yard run with 2:07 left, closing out the scoring at 57-30.

“We just had to find the holes and pound it in there tonight,” said Courtney, who rushed for 49 yards. “The offensive line was blocking good and the backs were blocking the linebackers, so we just kept pounding it.”

Pinyan said the coaches spent time working on individual drills with the offensive line during the week to get them off the ball quicker and push deeper. “I think most of those guys played really well tonight,” he said, of the offensive line. “I thought Nick Moore (6-0, 297) did a great job up front and (Robert) Barringer had a great game too.”

The Cougars’ defense had a stellar effort as well, despite the big passing night for North’s Gaither. Carson sacked Gaither seven times in the contest and stuffed the Raiders’ running game to the tune of a net minus-43 yards. “We were running what we call jets, to put pressure on the quarterback,” said defensive lineman Johnson, who was in on four of the sacks to go with his blocked punt. “I was mostly on outside contain, but we kept the pressure on.”

Carson is back home this coming Friday in NPC play as they host county rival East Rowan.

“We are not going to be able to give up 30 points to teams like East and West and South Iredell, so we have work to do,” said Pinyan. “But I think we have a pretty good football team when we don’t make mistakes and stay out of trouble.”

NOTES: In its record-setting rushing night, Carson got strong efforts from sophomore Michael Gonsalves (90 yards on 8 carries), Pyle with 60 yards and fullback Evan Johnston with 34 yards. … The Cougars scored seven rushing touchdowns in the game. … Placekicker Eric Turnbull was a perfect 7-for-7 on PATs, while quarterback Smith ran for a two-point conversion.

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