southern nash 35, rocky mount high 7
Southern Nash: Beasts of the Big East
Firebirds defeat Gryphons to earn second straight regular-season conference title
BY PATRICK MASON
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Kendrick Bell was carrying quite the load.
The Southern Nash running back held a large duffel bag in one hand, and had his uniform tucked under his other arm. That was light work, however, compared to what unfolded during Friday’s game against Rocky Mount High.
The Firebirds hadn’t forgotten about the first-round playoff exit last season delivered by the Gryphons, and did all they could to dish it right back. And after a slow start, Southern Nash gassed up its run game and earned a 35-7 victory.
It was the first time the Firebirds won on Rocky Mount High’s field since 2011, and the win all but locked up the 3-A Big East Conference for the second consecutive season.
“It has been forever since we won here,” said Bell, who rushed for a game-high 152 yards. “We wanted this one for so many reasons. We wanted to get them back a little bit for last year, and get one for us this year. It’s never easy, though. We had to compete hard.”
The Southern Nash offense opened the game by driving into the red zone on consecutive drives, only to leave with no points on both trips after losing a fumble and having a fourth-and-7 pass fall incomplete.
But the Firebirds (9-1, 4-0) proved to be too talented to keep out of the end zone. Bell capped a 73-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 5:18 to play in the second quarter. That drive was the first of three consecutive drives that ended in rushing touchdowns.
Nadir Thompson plunged in the from the 1 with 1:09 left in the first half, before Bell scored from three yards out on the Firebirds’ first drive of the second half.
“We were not sharp, especially early in the game,” Firebirds coach Brian Foster said. “We got into some trouble, turnovers killed us, but we battled through.”
The Gryphons (3-6, 2-2) picked up their second conference loss for the first time since 2014. But they played tough and kept the score within two touchdowns for almost three quarters. RMH enjoyed success through the air on play-action passes, and hit it big when quarterback Jaquan Lynch connected with Javeon Jones for a 10-yard score to tie the score at 7-7 late in the second quarter.
That was all the Gryphons could muster as the Firebirds defense feasted on their opponent’s offensive line. With so many speedy athletes, Southern Nash knows it can flip the field on special teams and that aspect of the game gets a lot of work during practice.
That unit showed up on Friday, blocking a punt and nearly stuffing another.
“With who we have returning for us,” Foster said, “that’s something we focus on a lot. That’s a real strength of ours.”
With a lead, the Firebirds are hard to chase down with their dominant rushing attack. Bell’s 152 yards was complemented by Zonovan Knight’s 118, with Kelvin Whitaker adding 51.
Both Bell and Knight have more than 1,000 rushing yards this season.
Southern Nash finished with 366 yards on the ground, even without a real passing threat.
The Firebirds selected three pass plays all game, with only one connecting for 13 yards to Dae’one Wilkins.
“Running with these guys is fun,” Bell said. “We try to pick up techniques from each other, and try to one-up the other guy. It’s fun, especially when you know we’re all competing for the same goal.”
The Gryphons, meanwhile, couldn’t get their run game going. Leading rusher Jalen Watson, who entered Friday’s game with a team-high 538 yards, was limited to 21 yards. Donomesion Brown led the way with 31 on the ground.
Instead, RMH tried to move the ball through the air, as Lynch finished 9 of 19 for 94 yards with an interception. Shyheim Battle, a Division I cornerback talent, has played snaps at both receiver and quarterback this season.
Battle was targeted in the passing game often, and all eyes were on the matchup when Southern Nash’s own Virginia Tech recruit Thompson was tasked with defending Battle.
“I know that’s my chance to make some plays and even get some more exposure against a player like that,” said Battle, who had a pair of catches for 24 yards. “I like playing them because they’re a physical team, they play hard, and make you work.”
Thompson is still working through some leg injuries, and when he was off the field the Gryphons were able to move the ball through the air. But a pair of lost fumbles and an interception in the second half killed several promising drives.
Southern Nash closes out its season at home against Franklinton, while the Gryphons will end their season on the road against Northern Nash.
S. Nash 0 14 14 7 - 35
RMH 0 7 0 0 - 7
SN - Kendrick Bell 6 run (kick good), 5:18
RMH - Javeon Jones 10 pass from Jaquan Lynch (Saylor Newton kick), 2:27
SN - Nadir Thompson 1 run (kick good), 1:09
SN - Bell 3 run (kick good), 10:39
SN - Kelvin Whitaker 1 run (kick good), :30.5
SN - Zonovan Knight 35 run (kick good), 9:04
RUSHING: Southern Nash - Kendrick Bell 17-152, Kelvin Whitaker 5-51, Nadir Thompson 3-16, Zonovan Knight 13-118, Na’sheen Cooley 1-5, Quinton Cooley 1-2, Jyronn Brinkley 1-6, Dae’one Wilkins 1-13, Darius Edmundson 1-(minus 3), Jack Vick 2-6. Totals: 45-366. RMH - Donomesion Brown 5-31, Jalen Watson 9-21, Charlie Williams III 6-6, Jaquan Lynch 4-31, Shyheim Battle 1-5, Tashuan Lawrence 1-0, Tyrese Gilliam 5-14, De’Trell Revis 1-4. Totals: 32-112.
RECEIVING: Southern Nash - Wilkins 1-13. RMH - Williams 4-50, Battle 2-24, Javeon Jones 2-17, Brown 1-3.
PASSING: Southern Nash - Thompson 1-3-0, 13 yards. RMH - Lynch 9-19-1, 94 yards.