High school football: Carson ends season with wild win over rival

Published 2:37 am Monday, October 30, 2023

By Mike London

LANDIS — Carson back Jay McGruder rambled and rumbled for 302 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns as the Cougars outscored South Rowan 54-30 on Friday.

With McGruder’s churning legs as the catalyst, it was the most offensive-minded game in the history of the rivalry. Carson blasted the Raiders 56-20 in 2019, while South hammered the Cougars 46-21 in 2009, but the 84 combined points was a record for the rivals.

South stayed in the South Piedmont Conference game most of the way, but Carson scored first, scored last and just kept lighting up the scoreboard.

“I love my job and love what I do, but this was a very tough year for us emotionally with Dalton Gay’s death before the season,” Carson coach Jonathan Lowe said. “It was good to be able to get four wins and it was good for our guys to finish with a tough win against a South team that has come a long way. South is on the right track.”

As close as the schools are and as strong as the rivalry is, Lowe didn’t mind admitting that South is his second favorite team.

“I coached a lot of the South guys in middle school, and I’ve always kept up with their progress,” Lowe said. “I pull for South every game except when we’re playing them. When South beat Central Cabarrus, I texted Coach (Chris) Walsh and congratulated him. That was a big win for South in the SPC. They’re getting better and I knew this would be a very challenging game for us. I knew we would have to play well to win it.”

Carson’s playoff hopes ended with a 30-27 loss at Central Cabarrus in Week 10 of the 11-week season. The Cougars (4-6, 3-4) would love to have that one back, and they also had every opportunity to win the non-conference game with West Stanly that went into overtime.

For South (3-7, 2-5) every win is a major triumph after 14 years of struggle. Every competitive loss is another step forward. This was another step forward.

“Our guys don’t have any quit in them.” Walsh said. “They’ve done things this year that haven’t been done at South in a long time, and they’re hungry for more. They’ll be back at it in the offseason.”

Flags were frequent, and tempers flared in the end zone following a Carson touchdown in the second quarter. Officials conferred, but there were no ejections, and the athletes who appeared to be the most directly involved in a physical moment (South’s Zion Jackson and Carson’s Jackson Earnhardt) both scored TDs for their teams before it was all over.

The first points came on defense. Carson registered a safety on a high shotgun snap that sailed into the South end zone. Then Griffin Barber threw the first of his three TD passes for the Cougars. He hit Foday Dyer with a short flip and Dyer turned it into a 10-yard touchdown. After the PAT, the Cougars had a two-score lead at 9-0.

“Griffin is establishing himself at the position of starting quarterback after taking over after Michael Guiton’s injury,” Lowe said. “We gave him a lot of high-percentage short passes and he made the throws and got the ball to the right guys.”

South tried to answer and moved the ball, but Carson’s Nehemiah Baldwin recovered a fumble by South workhorse Landon Richards at the Carson 30. Then the Cougars marched 70 yards with McGruder doing most of the heavy lifting. Barber dumped a short pass to McGruder, who eagerly roared 17 yards for the touchdown that put Carson in front 16-0 after a quarter.

The teams then traded interceptions. Londyn Johnson got one for Carson, but Zach Barham picked one off for the Raiders.

Barham’s interception came at the Carson 23. That set up South’s first score. Richards got the TD from the 1. QB Brooks Overcash tacked on a 2-point conversion run, and South trailed 16-8.

Barber threw a strike to Earnhardt down the middle for a 19-yard touchdown. After the brief melee in the end zone, Earnhardt hammered in a 2-point conversion for 24-8.

South responded with a scoring drive fueled by Richards.

“Richards is a dawg, a hoss, he runs the ball hard, and he is tough to bring down,” Lowe said.

Carson had the Raiders stopped  at the Carson 12, but a Cougar shoved Overcash to the ground after he’d thrown an incomplete pass on fourth down. A penalty flag flew, revived South’s drive and moved the ball to the Carson 6. Richards scored from there, and South added a creative 2-point conversion, with Marshal Faw throwing the ball to a diving Overcash.

Carson’s lead was down to 24-16 at the half.

South had a golden chance to get even as the second half got under way. The Raiders drove the ball to the Carson 31. On fourth-and-1, Overcash was going to keep it himself for the yard, but he slipped and his knee went down. Carson had held. That was one of the game’s pivotal moments.

Carson quickly faced a third-and-8, but Barber made a solid throw to Cooper Hinson, who made the snag for a first down. Hinson had three catches, and all three moved the chains for the Cougars. A few plays later, McGruder broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown. The Cougars led 31-16.

South drove the ball again. Richards kept doing what he does, slamming at the Carson defense like a human wrecking ball. He had 32 carries for 140 yards.

South faced a critical fourth-and-3 at the Carson 21, but got a procedure penalty. On fourth-and-8, two Cougars sacked Overcash.

As the game moved to the fourth quarter, Carson had a chance to put the Raiders away, but lost a fumble.

Carson’s defense stopped South, forced one of the game’s few punts, and safety Carson Aman came flying up the middle to block it. The ball took a splendid bounce for the Cougars. Instead of going out of the end zone for a safety, it squirted out of bounds on South’s 2-yard line. Earnhardt got his second TD, it was 39-16, and there was no longer any doubt about who would win.

There still was plenty of action, though.

Jadon Moore beat the Cougars deep. Overcash hit him for the 25-yard touchdown that made it 39-22.

McGruder answered with a 77-yard jaunt, and Carson added a 2-point conversion for 47-22.

South’s last score came on Overcash’s 45-yard TD pass to Jackson.

Carson also got one more score, with Makani Guida taking it to the end zone from 15 yards out.

Besides McGruder’s career game, Carson got a career effort from Barber, who began the season as the jayvee QB. He was 13-for-25 for 185 yards.

Overcash was 9-for-19 for 146 yards. South tight end Alex Furr had three catches for 50 yards.

“Offensively and defensively, we exceuted,” Lowe said. “Our defensive scheme was great, but South is not an easy team to stop.”