BAILEY – With the Bunn right tackle behind him, Southern Nash defensive end Alonte Thomas set his eyes on Wildcats’ quarterback Quenten Wright, who was rolling away from him.
In his mind, Thomas had to make up for a lackluster performance as the clock ticked below three minutes Friday night.
In his teammates’ minds, Thomas – a senior leader for the Firebirds – just had to do what he was capable of.
Thomas caught Wright, dragging him down for the second third-down sack in as many drives.
After an incompletion on fourth down, Southern Nash was able to escape with a 28-23 victory against Bunn to remain unbeaten.
“We have to quit hurting ourselves,” Firebirds coach Brian Foster said. “We do some really, really good stuff. We go from looking like we know everything we’re doing to looking like we don’t know anything we’re doing.
“We can blame that with having people out or moving people around or this and that, but the bottom line is, if you have 11 guys on the field, it should look like a team. We’re working on it, but I’d rather be 3-0 than 0-3.”
Southern Nash (3-0) escaped with a six-point victory last week against Wilson Beddingfield despite two fumbles and 13 penalties.
On Friday, fumbles nearly cost the Firebirds the game again.
Southern Nash put the ball on the ground four times, losing three of them. But the Firebirds also allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown.
“We’ve had so many opportunities, more opportunities than I could have imagined,” Foster said. “When you get a kickoff for a touchdown, you turn the ball over as many times as we did, you miss open chances (it hurts). But the bottom line is we won.”
Even though Foster appeared to leave the field with more relief on his face than happiness, the Firebirds did manage some positives.
Southern Nash gained 349 yards on the ground despite still missing its top three running backs.
Richard Hall scored twice, including what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, and sophomore running back Jaquay Mitchell rushed for 184 yards on 15 carries and scored on the second play of the second half.
“I love that little guy,” Hall said of Mitchell. “I thought he was going to be on varsity the whole time. He’s a great player. He has great vision in the back. He helped us (Friday). He made a lot of plays.”
However, for everything good the Firebirds accomplished Friday night, something went wrong.
Southern Nash forced a fumble on Bunn’s first possession only to go three-and-out and watch the Wildcats (1-2) take an early lead.
Hall broke a long punt return for a touchdown, which was nullified after a block in the back.
After Mitchell scored two plays into the second half, Bunn scored on the ensuing kickoff as Naquan Davis ran 75 yards untouched.
“We need the seniors and the leaders of the team to make that big, old play and get the team right back on course,” Hall said.
Hall did exactly that with a little more than seven minutes remaining. Quarterback Deon Lavender boot-legged to his left and found Hall in the flat.
Hall tiptoed down the sideline before making a subtle cut to the middle – eluding one defender – and taking a hit from another but managing to stay in bounds and score.
Thomas took over from there.
The senior picked up a sack on third down during each of the next two possessions for Bunn, unnecessarily redeeming himself.
“In conference, we can’t keep doing that,” Thomas said of the Firebirds’ lackluster performance. “The teams we play in conference are a lot better than the teams we play the first weeks.
“We have to step it up.”