PINETOPS – If you ask coach Brian Foster, all four of Southern Nash’s fourth-down conversions were of equal importance.
All four of them eventually led to scores for the Firebirds, but it was the first one that set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Facing fourth-and-4 from the SouthWest Edgecombe 26-yard-line, Foster sent his offense onto the field to try and pick up those last four yards. The pitch to Demetris Perry accomplished that and more as the sophomore sprinted past the Cougars’ defense into the end zone to give Southern Nash the early lead.
The Firebirds continued that motif for the remainder of the game, cruising to a 33-16 win over SouthWest Edgecombe in the season opener.
“Every fourth down we made was big,” Foster said. “The one we went for in the first half was probably not real smart ... It may not be smart football sometimes, but we were fortunate enough to make it and that was huge.”
SouthWest Edgecombe was once again susceptible to the big play, and Southern Nash exploited that no matter the down. The Firebirds had 10 rushes go for at least 10 yards, four of which eclipsed 20 yards.
The main culprit was missed tackles, an issue that plagued the Cougars throughout the game. SouthWest Edgecombe missed several tackles in the backfield that allowed the running back to get back to the line of scrimmage and several others in open space that gave the Southern Nash carriers space along the sidelines.
Grant Jones, who was playing in his first game since tearing his ACL in last year’s opener, led the Firebirds with 113 yards and seemed to be more refreshed as the game progressed.
He said he was thinking about his knee until his second carry when he knocked over a defender to get back to the line of scrimmage. He ended the game with a team-high 19 carries, many of which came in the second half, and he looked just as fresh as the beginning of the game.
“It was just settling in and just getting used to it,” Jones said. “I felt a lot fresher later in the game, I don’t know what it was, I just felt good.”
Foster used seven running backs in the game and that group did not include the Firebirds’ best back, Jaquay Mitchell, who is out to mid-September with a lacerated kidney.
“I’m proud of these guys that stepped in and they’re plenty capable,” Foster said.