Slinking further and further back in his chair, Rocky Mount High coach Jason Battle searched long and hard for the right word.
After a few deep breaths, Battle finally found the way to describe exactly how he felt after the Gryphons 24-22 victory against SouthWest Edgecombe on Friday night.
“Relaxed,” he said. “I felt like that’s what we did.
After watching a 21-point lead nearly evaporate in the final 11 minutes of the game, the relief on the face of Battle didn’t exactly match the outcome – a nonconference rivalry win.
But it did match the tone of his voice when he soon added that the Gryphons (4-1) were just too comfortable.
“Any time you think you’re on easy street, you’re going to find out that you’re still one street over,” he said. “You’re still one street over.”
SouthWest Edgecombe first-year coach Jonathan Cobb’s expression didn’t match the result either. He came out with a smile on his face, seemingly pleased with his team.
“We’ve been searching for internal leadership and finding ourselves,” Cobb said. “I just saw it in the locker room after that game. I’m coming away from this loss (Friday), not happy, not satisfied. ... This weekend, I’m going to feel OK, if that’s possible after a loss.”
Rocky Mount held SouthWest Edgecombe (2-3) scoreless through the first three quarters, and the Gryphons’ offense posted 21 points.
Then came the decision that changed everything.
Cobb told his team in the locker room at halftime that they needed someone to step up – make a big play that everyone could follow.
He had no idea that person would be his counterpart across the field.
On fourth-and-1 inside the Gryphons’ own 20-yard line, the ever-aggressive Battle decided to roll the dice. With all the momentum and his defense playing well, Battle tried to pick up the first down.
“We felt comfortable with the call,” Battle said. “Obviously, the whole thing blew up. I wouldn’t change it though. I’d do it again, probably.”
The Gryphons came up a yard short and on the next play, SouthWest Edgecombe scored its first touchdown.
A quick drive by Rocky Mount produced a field goal, but the Cougars had something building.
“They put their foot on the gas,” Battle said.
After a bad kickoff, SouthWest Edgecombe scored again when quarterback Quay Wooten found Marcus Williams for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Wooten’s two-point conversion run made it 24-14. After SouthWest Edgecombe’s ensuing onside kick with just less than six minutes to play was recovered by the Gryphons, Rocky Mount fumbled the ball away.
An interception by Gryphons safety Broderick Caudle at the goal line saved another score, but Rocky Mount gave the ball right back after a quick three-and-out.
After a bad punt, SouthWest Edgecombe’s back-up quarterback Quantellas Norwood found Wooten, who was split out wide as a receiver, for a 51-yard touchdown.
“They never quit,” Battle said. “They played to the end. They fought. They fought. They fought. We’re lucky we won the game.”
Again, Rocky Mount recovered the onside kick only to suffer another quick three-and-out and a botched punt. Only this time, there was only 5.3 seconds to play.
“It just started a downward spiral,” Battle said of his decision to go for it on fourth-and-one. “The only thing that saved us was probably that they ran out of time.”
SouthWest Edgecombe, which was playing without its leading rusher, Devontrell Hyman, who was held out after an unexpected concussion last week, filed out of the locker room without the downtrodden look of a team that fell just short in a rivalry game.
That was what Cobb hoped to see. He also hopes his team learns from it.
Rocky Mount sure learned a lesson.
“Ain’t nobody going to lay down for us,” Caudle said. “They’re always going to play. Ain’t nobody going to lay down for us.”
Rocky Mount High 24
SouthWest Edgecombe 22
SWE 0 0 0 22 – 22
RMH 0 14 7 3 – 24
RMH – Sherrod Greene 16 run (Micah Varnell kick), 3:44
RMH – Bikembe Kearney 35 pass from JT Smith (Varnell kick), :32.9
RMH – Broderick Caudle 2 run (Varnell kick), 5:28
SWE – Marcus Williams 18 run (kick failed), 10:56
RMH – Varnell 28 field goal, 8:10
SWE – Williams 33 pass from Quay Wooten (Wooten run), 5:59
SWE – Wooten 51 pass from Quantellas Norwood (Williams run), 1:45
15 First downs.............14
184 Passing yards.........49
323 Total offense.........292
Rushing – SWE: Marcus Williams 8-47; Barry Smith 16-40; Devante Williams 3-24; Quantellas Norwood 1-18; Tyquavious Whitehead 3-9; Quay Wooten 7-0. RMH: Mallik Lewis 21-99; Joseph Cooper 5-47; Rashawn Harris 8-38; Sherrod Greene 3-28; Broderick Caudle 6-16; Joshua Carter 4-16; JT Smith 1-(-1); Antorrio Jones 1-(-1).
Passing – SWE: Wooten 9-18-1, 123; Norwood 1-1-1, 51. RMH: Smith 1-1-1, 35; Carter 2-6-0, 14.
Receiving – SWE: Fabrion Bandy 4-60; Wooten 1-51; Marcus Williams 3-51; Smith 2-12. RMH: Bikembe Kearney 1-35; Caudle 1-13; Harris 1-1.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com