BAILEY – It was far from perfect, but Southern Nash isn’t going to fret about a 1-0 start.
The Firebirds left plenty on the table in their first contest – allowing SouthWest Edgecombe to stay in a game Southern Nash dominated in the first half – but did enough on both sides of the ball to come away with a 27-14 victory Friday at Southern Nash High School.
“I thought we fought hard, I just don’t think we fought smart,” Southern Nash coach Brian Foster said. “A lot of times, the kids want to do too much in the first game, but I thought our effort was there.”
Deon Lavender threw two touchdowns passes and Clinton Whitaker ran for two touchdowns for Southern Nash (1-0), but a series of missed chances let the Cougars (0-1) hang around and left the Firebirds unsatisfied.
Southern Nash controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for most of the night yet needed a final push in the fourth quarter to hang on.
The Firebirds stalled inside SouthWest Edgecombe’s 30 yard-line three times thanks to self-inflicted mistakes, dropped a trio of game-changing passes and let Cougars quarterback Quay Wooten break loose for a 47-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Despite holding the Cougars to 35 yards on 16 plays in the first half, Southern Nash found itself leading, 14-8, fewer than two minutes into the third quarter.
“I think we were getting frustrated, but we were like, 'C’mon, we just got to execute,” said wide receiver/defensive back Richard Hall, who caught a touchdown and recovered a fumble Friday. “We just had to do something. We had to start finishing drives.”
Whitaker scored from seven yards away on the first play of the fourth quarter, then Hall pounced on a fumble on SouthWest Edgecombe's 23-yard line that set up a 14-yard score from Lavender to Tahj Deans.
Devontrell Hyman broke a 44-yard touchdown later in the fourth quarter – part of a 138-yard day – and SouthWest Edgecombe nearly retrieved the ball on the ensuing possession, but a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty negated a fumble recovery.
Despite the bad first half, the Cougars did crawl back into the game, and for that, they departed Bailey pleased with their efforts.
“I think this team has a high potential,” Cougars coach Jonathan Cobb said. “I think we’ll see good things to come in the future.”
Foster said the Firebirds weren’t going to dwell on the missed chances, but he did believe the team not taking advantage of its early-game opportunities just let a good team hang around.
“Not putting them away gave them that much more energy to play that much longer,” Foster said. “If we’d have scored a couple times earlier ... it could’ve changed the whole game.”
Wooten threw for 95 yards for SouthWest Edgecombe, but it was Hyman who was the team’s player of the game. On Hyman’s first run of the second half, he broke three tackles in the backfield and turned a should-have-been 3-yard loss into a 44-yard gain.
In one run, he gained more yards than the Cougars had total up to that point.
“He’s a hard-running back,” Hall said. “He’s hard to bring down. We just have to wrap up better when we play somebody like that.”
Two of Southern Nash’s running backs, Grant Jones and Sebastian Oneal, were injured and did not return to the game.
Foster said Oneal was held out as a precaution, but the team expects him to be fine.
The prognosis wasn’t as bright for Jones, who the team fears might have a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Southern Nash already was playing without running back Zimonia Knight, who was injured in the Nash County Jamboree last week.
“We’re running out,” Foster said with a laugh. “We’ll just play who we have to play, though, even if we have to bring guys up from JV.”
Southern Nash plays host to Wilson Beddingfield next week. SouthWest Edgecombe will take on county rival North Edgecombe.
Southern Nash 27
SouthWest Edgecombe 14
SWE 0 0 8 6 – 14
SN 0 14 0 13 – 27
SN – Richard Hall 5 pass from Deon Lavender (Ismael Rodriguez kick), 6:55
SN – Clinton Whitaker 7 run (Rodriguez kick), 0:51
SWE – Quay Wooten 47 punt return (Devontrell Hyman conversion run), 6:23
SN – Whitaker 2 run (conversion fails), 11:52
SN – Tahj Deans 14 pass from Lavender (Rodriguez kick), 10:56
SWE – Hyman 44 run (conversion fails), 6:37
8 First downs................21
95 Passing yards............46
255 Total offense............335
Rushing – SWE: Hyman 15-138; Barry Smith 4-10; Devante Williams 4-9; Marcus Williams 3-6; Katrell Whitehead 1-2; Wooten 4-(-5). SN: Whitaker 18-115; Grant Jones 11-78; Taylor Finch 9-54; Hall 4-29; Sebastian Oneal 4-26; Dean 1-5; Team 1-(-2); Lavender 8-(-16).
Passing – SWE: Wooten 6-13-0, 95. SN: Lavender 4-9-2, 46.
Receiving – SWE: M. Williams 2-58; D. Williams 1-24; Smith 2-7; Fabrion Bandy 1-6. SN: Hall 2-23; Deans 1-14; Finch 1-9.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org