Fresh Start: Bridges, Lynch lead Gryphons to opening-night win
By SAMUEL EVERS
Friday, August 17, 2018
On prep football's first Friday of the season, it was a good night to be Rodell Bridges.
Last season, the Rocky Mount High senior played almost exclusively on defense as a middle linebacker, rushing just eight times for 32 all-purpose yards of offense. One game into 2018, he’s already quadrupled that number.
He can thank a three-touchdown performance with 103 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards on three receptions against Apex Middle Creek on Friday night at Rocky Mount High for that.
His breakout game on offense, crossed with a crisp, well-played contest from junior quarterback Jaquan Lynch, all added up to a 35-16 opening-night win for the Gryphons, avenging a loss to Middle Creek in last season's opener.
“I wanted to come in here and do it. I wanted to make a mark,” Bridges said. “I wanted to show them what I could do.”
Friday night was the first time RMHS has beat the 4-A school in its last four tries.
“We made some adjustments to our roster in the spring. Rodell was a kid we felt like we could move over,” RMHS coach Jason Battle said. “He can do multiple things for us offensively. He proved that tonight.”
Along with Bridges’ three scores -- all on the ground -- Antwain Dunston fell on a fumbled ball in the end zone in the second quarter and Tashaun Lawrence punched in a 10-yard run late in the fourth as the game’s exclamation point.
Lynch, who focused on game management and accuracy in between his sophomore and junior seasons, started off his second year as Rocky Mount High’s starting quarterback almost perfectly. His numbers -- 5-of-10 passing for 79 yards and an interception -- don’t stick out, but two of those incompletions were drops, with one coming in the end zone.
His lone interception was a de facto punt on a fourth down late in the first half. All night, he kept the Mustangs defense off-balance with well-sold play fakes and perfectly lofted passes.
After the game, it was a strong contrast in feeling for Lynch compared to last year’s opening night, a loss to Middle Creek in his first varsity start.
“Coach was just talking about it, we had that heart this time,” Lynch said. “We don’t care who got the touchdowns. I didn’t throw a single touchdown but I did what the team needed me to do.”
N.C. State commit Shyheim Battle was thrown at on the first play of the game, which resulted in a two-yard gain, but was only targeted four more times after. The last four resulted in incompletions. He also had a pass deflection on a late-game Hail Mary for Mustang quarterback Sean Brown, who had impressive moments, throwing for two touchdowns on 25 attempts.
The Gryphons led, 21-10, at halftime, but things got a lot more interesting when the Mustangs started the half with a defensive stop, then scored a touchdown to make it 21-16. The ensuing drive for the Gryphons shut down momentum for Middle Creek. It was a prompt, three-minute drive that ended with a hat trick for Bridges, and made the score 28-16. The lead never went below double-digits from there.
Early in the third quarter, Lynch connected with Lawrence for a 30-yard gain on a wheel route. The ball was perfectly placed along the sideline over the outstretched hands of two Middle Creek defenders. For someone down on his throwing touch as a sophomore, it was a moment of pride. “I liked that one,” Lynch said, smiling. “I took a shot on that one, but we don’t have to talk about that.”
He said it
“It’s big for our kids and their confidence. Their confidence level changes coming back to practice Monday,” said Coach Battle, on finally beating Middle Creek. “They can feel like they washed off the 2017 season. We can finally put that behind us.”
The Gryphons will head to D.H. Conley next Friday for their first road game of the season. The game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff.