Rhythmic running: Gryphons handle West Carteret, advance to second round

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Rocky Mount High’s Tashaun Lawrence runs with the ball on Friday the first round of the playoffs against West Carteret.


Sports Writer

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Rocky Mount High football team rode a second-half surge in the running game to pull away from a pesky West Carteret team as the Gryphons stormed to a 34-3 home win in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs.

But while the Gryphons took over and ultimately buried the Patriots in the second half with gashing runs and timely passes, the first half told a story of relief. RMH took a 7-3 lead into the break and had a moment of reality.

“You’re always glad to be winning,” Gryphons coach Jason Battle said of the first half, “but it was ugly.”

The fifth-seeded Gryphons (9-1) turned the ball over three times in the first half and gave the 12th-seeded Patriots (6-6) a number of prime scoring chances. RMH fumbled on its first two drives of the game, and Jaquan Lynch was intercepted late in the second quarter.

The only bright spot for the offense was a 27-yard touchdown run by Rodell Bridges to cap a two-play, 55-yard drive to answer the Patriots’ lone score of the night, a 27-yard field goal.

So when the Gryphons received the ball to open the second half the game plan was simple: run the ball and move the chains.

“It was just about finding rhythm,” Battle said of the run-heavy second half. “We tried to establish the run, and it was absolutely imperative that we scored on that first drive. If not, it becomes a dog fight, and we were already in one. We had to distance ourselves.”

The Gryphons ran 11 plays on their opening drive of the third quarter — all runs — and capped the 60-yard drive with Tashaun Lawrence’s first of two touchdowns to push the lead to 14-3. The RMH defense came up with a fourth-down stop, then Bridges ran in from 35 yards out to go up 21-3.

Both Lawrence and Bridges would score one more touchdown apiece as the Gryphons scored on four of their five second-half drives to put the game away.

“We weren’t ourselves in the first half,” Bridges said. “So we wanted to come out and do what we had to do and score.”

While the Gryphons offense sputtered early, the defense kept the score close. Led by sophomore end Keeshawn Silver, who had his hand in a pair of quarterback sacks, RMH turned away the Patriots at every opportunity.

In the first half, West Carteret got inside the Gryphons’ 25 on three consecutive drives but was held to a trio of field goal attempts. Patriots kicker Braxton Plisko missed his first kick, a 35-yard attempt, made his second (a 27-yarder), then missed a 38-yard try.

That was as close as the Patriots would get as the Gryphons defense shut down what was a productive Patriots passing game early and stuffed run attempts.

“ We just had to keep ourselves together and listen to Coach,” Silver said. “At halftime we looked around and it was just go out and have fun. Looking at film, we knew their QB had quick feet, and if we kept ourselves together and squeeze the right way we knew we would be good.”

Three things

1. Rocky Mount High quarterback Jaquan Lynch didn’t attempt a pass in the third quarter, but that trend wasn’t going to continue.

On the Gryphons’ first drive of the fourth quarter Lynch rolled out to his left, evaded several pass rushers in the backfield, and launched a pass down the sideline where he found Bridges for a 56-yard touchdown.

The score pushed the RMH lead to 27-3. But even with Lynch maneuvering in the backfield, Bridges didn’t quit on his route. He knows that his quarterback has a knack for extending plays and finding the right read.

“I ran the route and I didn't think he was going to throw it,” Bridges said. “But I kept running and it landed right in my hands. I trust him, he keeps the plays going.”

2. West Carteret was flagged for nine penalties for 70 yards, including a would-be touchdown pass that was called back due to an illegal man downfield. The Patriots settled for a 38-yard field goal try that missed.

It was a prime opportunity that the Patriots never had again.

“It was tough because they had us in a bind because they were running the ball well which opened up some passing windows for them,” Battle said. “But when we were able to contain them running, we were able to handle their passing game.”

3. Rocky Mount High will travel to No. 4 Fayetteville Terry Sanford next Friday in a rematch of last season’s first-round game that knocked the Gryphons out of the playoffs.

Again, this game will be held in Fayetteville, but this version of the Gryphons are more dynamic on both sides of the ball which should set up an interesting game.

“You know I'm the one of the (most humble) guys,” Silver said, “but we got to get our revenge.”

He said it

“He’s my brother, we’re a dangerous duo,” Bridges said of himself and fellow running back Lawrence. “He scores, then I score. We go back and forth.”

Scoring plays

Second quarter

WC - Braxton Plisko 27 FG, 9:18

RMH - Rodell Bridges 27 run (Saylor Newton kick), 8:41

Third quarter

RMH - Tashaun Lawrence 3 run (Newton kick), 7:44

RMH - Bridges 35 run (Newton kick), 31.7

Fourth quarter

RMH - Bridges 56 pass from Jaquan Lynch (kick failed), 10:53

RMH - Lawrence 34 run (Newton kick), 9:07