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High school football: Five turnovers too much for Cavs to overcome

North Rowan falls in YVC showdown

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Jaharion Graham (8) runs the ball. The North Rowan varsity Cavalier football team fell to the visiting North Stanly high team 43-8.. Spencer, North Carolina. 10/19/18

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SPENCER  — Helmet still on, North Rowan quarterback Willis Mitchell stood tall outside the locker rooms at Eagle Stadium and congratulated victorious North Stanly players individually as they marched off the field.

There wasn’t really anything Mitchell or anyone else in green and black could do except tip a cap to the visitors and shake their hands. The sixth-ranked Comets had been awesome offensively, defensively and on special teams and they had destroyed the fifth-ranked Cavaliers, 43-8.

“We did some things to beat ourselves as far as dumb penalties and dumb decisions, and North Stanly is a very good team,” Mitchell said. “All we can do now is keep winning until we see them again in the 1A playoffs. We’ll do better if we can get a rematch.”

North Rowan can’t do worse. The Cavaliers (6-2, 3-1 Yadkin Valley Conference) had allowed 34 points in their first seven games. North Stanly (7-2, 5-0) exceeded that total with terrific running backs Cameron Davis and DJ Rhone Jr. just tearing the home team to pieces in the second half.

“Huge win for us as far as our conference,” said North Stanly coach Scott Crisco, after the Comets demolished the only YVC team that had any chance to stop them. “This was a playoff game for us. We prepared for it like a playoff game.”

Part of what happened in this highly anticipated matchup was North Rowan getting off to one of the ugliest starts in football history. The Cavaliers accepted the opening kickoff. Mitchell dropped back to pass on the first snap.

“I saw (North Rowan back) Malcolm Wilson running down the middle of field wide open, but I never saw the linebacker,” Mitchell said.

The linebacker was Carter Terry, and he stepped in front of Mitchell’s pass and intercepted at the North Rowan 20. Four plays later, Davis went bouncing into the end zone, and it was 6-0.

It got worse in a hurry. North Rowan lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff at its 27. It took the Comets just one play to score. Colby Russell was running free behind the secondary, and QB Bailey Baker delivered the ball. The game was barely a minute old, North Rowan had snapped the ball once, and was down, 12-0.

It was obvious North Stanly was keying on Wilson, so fullback David Broaddus got a handoff on the Cavaliers’ next series. Broaddus fumbled at the NR 36. The snowball continued to roll.

It could been over right there, but North Rowan’s defense, led by linebackers Nautica Patterson and Tyzai Lyles, stood up.

Next came a bizarre play. Bailey lost the handle on a shotgun snap, recovered, scrambled toward the NR sideline, tried to throw and got smacked. The ball squirted in the air to North Rowan lineman Josiah Hawthorne, a huge break that gave the Cavaliers a chance to catch their collective breaths.

Wilson broke loose for an apparent North Rowan touchdown, but a flag for holding negated part of the run. Undaunted, the Cavaliers still drove to score, with Mitchell breaking tackles to take it in from the 3-yard line. When the Cavaliers tacked on a 2-point conversion run, it was 12-8 and all that early misery seemed to be in the rearview mirror. The Cavaliers were back in the game and the home crowd was coming to life.

North’s fourth turnover of the first half came on a screen pass that was picked off by North Stanly’s Dylan Eudy.

“That’s one where I should have just thrown the ball away when the play wasn’t there,” Mitchell said.

The second quarter would belong to North Rowan’s defense. Lots of determined stops, including Cavalier DBs Spencer Everhart and Xzavier Davis teaming to drive Cameron Davis out of bounds inches short of the sticks on a fourth-and-1 play in the red zone.

North Rowan believed it had another stop near the North Stanly 40 late in the half, but Crisco gambled successfully on a faked punt. Rhone, swift and powerful as a locomotive, toted the ball after a tricky reverse, barreled for the first down and more, and the drive resumed. That big play led to a North Stanly field goal to close the first half, and it was 15-8.

“The faked punt was big because we’d allowed North Rowan to take the momentum away from us when we kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the red zone,” Crisco said. “We got a field goal out of it, and that was a positive way to go into the half.”

Over  in the North Rowan locker room, North Rowan coach Ben Hampton was still confident.

“We’d turned it over four times and we were still only down one score, so we felt like we were in pretty good shape,” Hampton said. “Our defense had their backs to the wall the whole first half, but they kept us in the game.”

But the complexion of the game changed dramatically before North Rowan ever possessed the ball in the second half.

The Comets took the second-half kickoff,  and Davis zipped for 18 yards on the first snap. On the second snap, Rhone cavorted down the North Stanly sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. It was 22-8.

“When you’ve got linemen blocking for you like we’ve got, a lot of things are possible,” Rhone said. “We played hard and we carried out our assignments. When you do that, the results will be good.”

Desperately needing to answer, North Rowan moved the ball on its initial possession of the second half, but a third-down drop halted the Cavaliers’ progress. Facing fourth-and-3 at the North Rowan 48, Hampton opted to punt.

That’s when the visitors put the hammer down. They breezed 85 yards to score through a normally impenetrable defense, mixing runs and passes. Rhone motored for the six points from the 17, and it was 29-8 with 4:44 left in the third quarter.

There was still time to mount a comeback, but now North Rowan absolutely had to score. Again, the Cavaliers moved the chains a few times, mostly with the legs of the relentless Wilson.

“We could see on film how special No. 22 (Wilson) is,” Crisco said. “We put in a few new things this week to try to deal with him.”

On fourth-and-1 at the North Stanly 27, there was no secret who was getting the ball. Wilson roared forward. Three physical Comets were there to wrap him up immediately for no gain. The Cavaliers turned it over on downs, and everyone knew it was all over.

“That stop  — the nail in the coffin,” Crisco said.

The Comets would score two more TDs in the fourth quarter, with Davis’ speed turning a harmless-looking flip into the flat into a 34-yard touchdown pass and DB Wes Reynolds scooping a fumble by a scrambling Mitchell, who really got drilled near the North Stanly sideline, and heading 45 yards to the house. That was turnover No. 5 for the Cavaliers.

Offensively, North Rowan spent most of the fourth quarter struggling, and with Mitchell running for his life. He was sacked five times on the night.

“They just beat us upfront,” Hampton said. “Mitchell didn’t have time to read the field, never had time to set his feet. We made some good adjustments at halftime, and there were a lot of things we could’ve taken advantage of in the second half, but they brought a lot of pressure and we couldn’t protect our quarterback.”

Wilson battled for 138 yards on 22 carries and couldn’t have done much more than he did.

But North Rowan’s offensive output, normally balanced and producing about 380 yards per game, was held under 200 yards. Plagued by drops, the Cavaliers managed just 61 passing yards.

“You’re not going to beat a team like North Stanly when you play like we did,” Hampton said. “Five turnovers and a lot of penalties. It was too much to overcome.”

•••

NOTES: Everhart recovered a fumble for North Rowan. … North Stanly’s 6-4, 220-pound punter Garrett Clark boomed one more than 60 yards. … Rhone carried for 152 yards, while Davis produced 90 rushing yards and 58 receiving yards. “We’re blessed to have a 1-2 punch like that,” Crisco said. … Rhone and Davis also play defense for the Comets.  … North Stanly only has to beat North Moore and South Stanly to run the table in the YVC. … North Rowan has three YVC games left. The last regular-season home game for the Cavaliers is against West Montgomery next week. They’ll finish with South Davidson and North Moore on the road.

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