The Rocky Mount High defense, which goes by the nickname 'Dark Side,’ was stout last season, allowing two touchdowns or fewer in six out of its 10 regular-season games.
Although this year, after Jason Battle’s first career shutout in a 30-0 victory against Oxford Webb, Rocky Mount (2-0) proved it could be even better.
It took its coaching staff to the next level.
With defensive coordinator Jermaine Jones and Gerald Costen already on staff with collegiate playing experience, Battle added former Rocky Mount High standout Stephan Virgil to the staff to coach the defensive backs.
Virgil, who is the head coach of the middle school program, played at Virginia Tech and represented team U.S.A.
“It makes us better,” linebacker Deangelo Swift said of having former players on staff. “They’re able to give their own little tips and stuff that they learned in college that we can put into high school right now.”
Rocky Mount has allowed fewer than 90 passing yards in each of its first two games and allowed just 142 yards in its Week 2 victory.
The Gryphons will be tested again next week against Hertford County, which defeated defending Big East Conference champion Wilson Hunt in Week 2. The coaching staff should have the defense ready to play.
“We may know a little something about football,” Jones said.
Rarely does Tarboro have such a poor day but not much went correct for the Vikings on or off the field Friday.
Tarboro lost its first regular-season game in nearly two years when it fell at Washington, 20-14.
The Vikings’ last regular-season loss was Oct. 7, 2011 in a 54-48 defeat to Kinston.
Before the game, coach Jeff Craddock suspended two players for disciplinary reasons.
Once the game began, the Vikings (1-1) lost two of their top three running backs to injuries.
Julian Lee dislocated his shoulder and suffered a fractured collarbone in the first quarter. Craddock said he is hopeful that Lee, a two-way starter can return by the start of the conference season.
Deshan Farmer, also a two-way starter, broke his wrist during the game that will require surgery.
Add in a few costly penalties, turnovers and a touchdown that was called back, and it was an un-Tarboro like performance.
The Vikings fell behind 20-0 before rallying. Washington converted a 3rd-and-5 with a minute to play to seal the game.
“It was one of those games, we couldn’t get on track,” Craddock said. “We just couldn’t quite get in sync. I give credit to Washington. They kept us bottled up, and we couldn’t get out of our own way.”
Craddock said he will be forced to call up some players from the JV squad to replace Lee and Farmer, something he has not done in a few seasons.
Despite the loss, Saturday morning’s film session was business as usual.
“I think everyone understands we have to get better,” Craddock said. “It’s tough to go undefeated. You stumble. It’s high school football.”
The Knights are a team in transition, and that might be the case all season.
Northern Nash’s task of becoming the team first-year coach Randy Raper envisions is made more difficult on night’s like Friday, when the Knights visited Elizabeth City Northeastern and left the field with a 45-0 loss.
Raper said Northeastern’s offensive players were quicker than the Knights’ defenders, but most important, the team is steps ahead of his when it comes to understanding who they are.
“Playing a team like that, they are an established program,” Raper said. “Those kids are used to the program , and we’re still trying to learn the system and get better at it."
Northern Nash (0-2) fell behind quickly, and dropped passes combined with inconsistencies in its running game and defense made for the one-sided score.
Raper said a few players sat out the game with bumps and bruises, but none of the injuries were significant.
“There will be much more important games than what we’re playing right now,” Raper said.
In a seven-day time frame, Nash Central made significant progress.
The end result did not yield a win Friday night for the Bulldogs in a 26-9 loss at Kinston, but considering his team played one of the better 2-A programs in the state, coach Kevin Crudup was pleased.
For one, Nash Central scored, something it didn’t accomplish in a loss to Tarboro in Week 1.
The Bulldogs even had a lead late in the second quarter (9-7), and its offense produced 100 more yards (170) than its Week 1 output.
“We played hard, but we ran out of gas at the end,” Crudup said. “We showed great improvement. We didn’t change up much. We tried to simplify the game plan and went with some basic plays we knew would be successful.”
Sophomore Charles Harvey Jr. scored the lone touchdown for the Bulldogs (0-2).
Nash Central’s defense played well for most of the night. The unit recorded an interception for a second straight week. Two long passing touchdowns of 44 and 71 yard in the third quarter were the difference in the contest.
“We’re getting there,” Crudup said.
Rocky Mount Academy
The season-opener started exactly the way the Eagles would have hoped.
Not only did Rocky Mount Academy open its 49-7 victory against Halifax Academy with a great opening kickoff return and a first-play, 55-yard touchdown run by Linwood Jones, but the Eagles also were scored on themselves.
Halifax Academy came right back down the field for a touchdown. That was the last time Halifax Academy found the end zone, and Rocky Mount Academy (1-0) scored on all of its possessions in the first half and its first in the second half.
“It was a good test in that situation,” coach B.W. Holt said. “We were playing away from home and they answered. But we answered. That’s the key.”
Rocky Mount Academy finished with more than 400 rushing yards, and senior fullback Chris Jenkins, who is replacing Adam Bayless, finished with a pair of scores and more than 100 yards on the ground.
Senior offensive lineman Eric Robertson, who is playing with a broken hand, helped guide an offensive line which paved the way for nearly half a dozen ball carriers.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage,” Holt said. “That’s what you have to do. If we can do that, I think we’ll be competitive.”
A first test is good for the Eagles because Friday they’ll face Hobgood Academy, which defeated Rocky Mount Academy last year by one point on a controversial last-second two-point conversion play.
Rocky Mount Prep
The little things continue to haunt the Jaguars.
Down by just 18 points and driving, Rocky Mount Prep fumbled the snap and lost the ball. On the next possession, a blocked kicked turned into a touchdown against the Jaguars.
Suddenly, just an 18-point deficit spiraled out of control, and the Jaguars lost 56-0 Friday against Granville Central.
“We just have to suck it up when we’re behind,” coach Don Reams said.
Whether it was a running back running out of bounds at an inopportune time, the offensive line not communicating properly or a defensive end abandoning contain, the little issues that troubled Rocky Mount Prep during last year’s winless season continue Friday night.
The one way that changes is with experience. Although, that’s a disadvantage the Jaguars face every night.
“We just have to understand, they’ve been doing this longer than we have,” Reams said. “They’ve executed longer than we have. When they took the lumps, they came back from it.”
From Week 1 to Week 2, SouthWest Edgecombe looked like two different teams. The Cougars struggled to move the ball in their opener against Southern Nash but had no issues scoring in a 54-14 rout of North Edgecombe on Friday.
The Cougars are taking a measured approach to the contrasting weeks.
“Obviously, offensively we were much more dynamic (in Week 2),” SouthWest Edgecombe coach Jonathan Cobb said. “Now, I’m sure that has a lot to with the opponent we played last week (Southern Nash), being so good up front and so good defensively as well.”
The game also gave the Cougars a chance to showcase an asset that few Twin Counties teams have: A solid kicker.
Jarratt Mobley had plenty of practice kicking extra points Friday, and Cobb said SouthWest Edgecombe will have a red-zone option in the future besides going for fourth-down conversions.
“We’re getting better there,” Cobb said. “That kicker, Jarratt Mobley, he’ll be able to kick field goals for us this season.”
The Warriors were knocked back by SouthWest Edgecombe nearly as soon as they exited the bus, but North Edgecombe didn’t do itself any favors.
The Cougars scored touchdowns on their first five possessions and led, 33-0, less than 15 minutes into the game. One of those drives was extended with a fourth-down offsides penalty that resulted in a first down, and another was set up by a fumbled kickoff.
“We’re just young, and we’re going to make young mistakes,” North Edgecombe coach Keith Parisher said. “Next week, we’re going to work on ourselves, move a few people around and make the adjustments. We got to make to become a better football team.”
The Warriors are idle in Week 3, yet the team felt encouraged by the way it played after the initial barrage.
North Edgecombe has its entire offensive line and entire backfield except for its quarterback coming back for the 2014 season. Right now, the team is learning how to beat good teams, and Parisher said their mental response to the big deficit was encouraging.
“We settled down,” Parisher said. “We’re still young, so we’re still going to have these growing pains and these nights where we try to make adjustments and grow. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Apparently, the injury bug didn’t affect the Firebirds enough last season.
Southern Nash (2-0) lost another running back, its third of the season, in a 30-24 victory against Wilson Beddingfield.
Starting running back Clinton Whitaker rolled his left ankle in the first quarter before limping off.
By the second quarter he was icing his foot, and when the team retook the field, he came out on crutches next to Grant Jones, who suffered a torn MCL and ACL in Week 1.
“We’re injured, that’s all the matters,” Foster said.
Whitaker, who five carries for 29 yards in the first quarter, rolled the same ankle that he hurt last season, which left it weak.
“We’ll just play who we’ve got,” Foster said.
Because of its running back issues, Southern Nash was forced to rely on a pair of ball carries who were on the JV team earlier this week.
Jaquay Mitchell and Mike Portillo ran for a combined 61 yards on 15 carries and helped lead the Firebirds on a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter.
“It just makes us fight harder,” safety Kendall Parker said of the injuries. “We are a team. Everything we do, we are going to do together. ... We don’t have the most depth, but we’re going to make it work.”