High school football: South ends long losing streak in the county

Published 3:07 am Monday, October 23, 2023

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — South Rowan cornerback Macon Fuller went to work Saturday morning, same as always, parking cars at Patterson Farm Market like nothing special had taken place.

South Rowan head coach Chris Walsh just happened to be one of the visitors to Patterson on Saturday. The smiles were big.

Fuller’s 98-yard fumble return was a humongous play on Friday, creating a two-touchdown swing in South’s 32-13 win on East Rowan’s homecoming night.

“Macon gave us a spark when we really needed it,” Walsh said.

One week after losing 65-0 to South Piedmont Conference champ Robinson, South Rowan won a ballgame. According to the Massey Ratings, South was a 15-point underdog, even against a team that had not won yet.

Most of South’s players were 2 or 3 years old the last time the Raiders were really good in 2009, so no wins are small for the program. Every win is celebrated. Friday’s victory may be the biggest for South since the one against Carson in 2016 because that’s the last time the Raiders beat anyone in the county.

South (3-6, 2-4) had lost 24 straight games against county opponents. It was East that started that unfortunate streak for the Raiders with a 47-0 pummeling to close the 2016 season.

East has experienced 1-9 seasons recently, but the Mustangs (0-9, 0-6) still have been able to beat the Raiders. This time they didn’t.

It was an intriguing game that included 38 carries for 288 yards by South tailback Landon Richards.

He’d get 5 yards with a quick jump cut, and then he’d pound someone at the end of the run. Richards finished the night just 7 yards shy of Darius Beaty’s single-game school rushing record that was set against West Forsyth.

South took a knee on its last three snaps, so there’s not much doubt Richards could have gotten the record against an exhausted defense, but Walsh has no regrets about not pouring it on. He’s trying to teach the right lessons, win or lose. You lose with class. When the wins come, you win with class.

Coach John FItz and the Mustangs welcomed quarterback Gavin Walker back from an extended absence due to a broken collarbone — there’s no way South could have anticipated that — and Walker, back Tijon Everhart and receiver AJ Goodman dominated the game in the early going.

Walker accounted for 200-plus yards with his passing and running. Everhart had 75 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards. Goodman had seven catches, with more than 100 receiving yards.

At one point, East had three nice drives in the books, while South had run just three offensive plays, but the second half was a different story. The Raiders owned the second half.

Unsung heroes for South? Pulling left guard Ryan Walden had blocks that frequently sprung Richards.

Linebacker Gavin Bisco had a phenomenal game with 15 tackles and two game-changing plays — a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Linebacker Bryson Frieze had a key sack. Linebacker James Ritchie was credited with 10 tackles.

Quarterback Brooks Overcash can throw it, so he couldn’t have been thrilled with the run-heavy offensive game plan, but he went out and executed. When he had to make plays, he made them, and you had to like the body language. After South won, he was hopping around like the Easter Bunny and hugging everyone in sight. He threw the ball four times, but South won. That was all that mattered to him.

East opened the game with a 65-yard scoring drive, brushing aside South’s defense. Jacob Butler powered into the end zone from the 3-yard line, and the Mustangs led 6-0.

South’s first possession lasted just three plays. A lost fumble at the East 45 ended it. From there, the Mustangs immediately started marching.

Walker guided the Mustangs to the South 5, and they looked ready to punch in another touchdown, but East didn’t quite get to the end zone. Bisco caused a fumble and the ball rolled straight to Fuller, who fielded it on the run on the South sideline and had nothing but grass in front of him. Every East player had been pushing toward the end zone, and Fuller was almost to the 20 before any sort of pursuit started. He scored easily, Jadon Moore kicked the PAT, and South, instead of being in a 12-0 or 13-0 hole right away, led 7-6.

East tried to shrug off that wild turn of events. The Mustangs methodically drove 80 yards. Walker got the rushing TD from the 5. East went up 13-7 on Carter Honeycutt’s PAT.

The game was well into the second quarter at that point. East had nearly 200 yards, and South had 21.

South revealed on its next possession that the game plan would be Richards, Richards and then more Richards. South pushed the ball from the South 28 to the East 8, but that’s where the Raiders lost their second fumble of the night.

South’s defense kept East pinned with a three-and-out, and the Raiders were awarded a safety when the snap on the punt sailed out of the end zone. East’s lead was cut to 13-9.

South got the ball near midfield after the free kick following the safety, punched it inside the East 10, but couldn’t put it in the end zone. Moore’s point-blank field field goal cut the Raiders’ deficit to 13-12 at the half.

South’s opening possession of the second half would be critical for both teams. Everyone knew that.

Richards got 21 yards on the first snap. South won a physical battle, grinding for 80 yards and a go-ahead touchdown. Richards got 66 of those yards. The other 14 came when Overcash dumped a pass to Conner Richards, Landon’s brother. South tacked on a 2-point conversion pass after the TD — Overcash to Ritchie. It was 20-13.

East desperately needed to answer, but failed to do so. The Mustangs were on the move, but an option pitch eluded Everhart, and Bisco won a wrestling match for the loose ball at the South 34.

South began another march. Overcash scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-10 after East had stuffed Richards twice. Then Overcash spotted Moore running free down the middle of the field. Overcash made the throw, and South led 26-13.

South’s defense got another stop.

Then East’s defense got one at the East 30, but not before Richards had churned several precious minutes off the clock.

When Frieze broke through on a fourth-down play to sack Walker at the South 46, the Mustangs were just about done.

They were finished moments later when Richards scooted through a huge hole, shook off one tackling attempt, and was in the clear for a 54-yard score.

As Richards reached the East end zone, he thrust his right arm into the air in triumph, and when he looked up, he had 10 teammates sprinting down the field to help him celebrate.

“There were a lot of heroes in this one,” Walsh said.