TARBORO – Northern Nash is in the process of learning how to win football games, and for three quarters, the Knights looked like a winning team.
It was the one miserable quarter that cost Northern Nash again.
The Knights melted down in the third quarter, fumbling two kickoff returns, allowing three long runs and snapping the ball out of their own end zone on a punt, all of which led to 21 Tarboro points in a 21-7 loss Friday at Tarboro High School.
“The special teams caught us (Friday), and we had been playing special teams well all year,” Northern Nash coach Randy Raper said. “...They caught us in the third quarter, and that was the turning point in the game. I really thought we had them on the ropes.”
Northern Nash (0-3) played an excellent first half, and through two quarters, it was the better team. The Knights touched the ball first and were markedly efficient, gaining six first downs with a balanced offense and taking a 7-0 lead on Jaquez Howington’s one-yard touchdown run.
The Knights recovered a fumble on the ensuing Tarboro (2-1) possession but turned over the ball on downs inside the red zone.
After gaining another stop, the Knights again stalled in the red zone and again came away with no points because of a missed 32-yard field goal.
A game Northern Nash could have been leading by three scores instead remained 7-0, a score that stuck until halftime.
“That just gave us huge momentum,” Tarboro linebacker Saiid Murphy said. “The defense, we just had to shore up our tackles and kept plugging. It was who wanted it the most, and we did.”
The game changed rapidly in the third quarter.
Tarboro’s offense, which had been held silent up until that point, saw its first big play with Radja Bobbitt’s 44-yard run down to the Northern Nash three-yard line, which set up a one-yard touchdown run by Bobbitt.
On the ensuing kickoff, a big Knights return was voided because of a fumble, which Tarboro recovered.
Rayshawn Battle broke a 38-yard run for a touchdown on the very next Tarboro play, taking a lead that Tarboro made permanent.
“We just said, listen, we know we have to play a great second half, and if we don’t, we’re going to be in trouble,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “The big thing was we had to take the ball right down the field and let them know that we play for four quarters, and we did it.”
Tarboro employed a squib kick on the following kickoff, and it hit a Northern Nash up-man and was pounced on by the Vikings. Though that drive ended in a turnover on downs, the Knights committed a foolish personal foul – a problem for both teams – well after the whistle on the Vikings’ fourth-down play. The penalty pinned Northern Nash inside its own 10-yard line, which came back to punish the Knights when a bad snap on a punt was downed in the end zone for a safety.
Bobbitt scored his second touchdown on Tarboro’s ensuing possession, and neither team changed the scoreboard again.
“It’s a tough way to lose a football game,” Raper said. “Especially when you make those mistakes. It almost looks like you give it away.”
The game devolved into after-the-whistle nastiness in the fourth quarter.
Pushing and talking after the whistle turned into near fighting at times, and both sides were hit multiple personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct and late hits.
As the Vikings were driving early in the fourth quarter, four straight plays saw flags, and three of them were personal fouls. The Knights were penalized 14 times for 101 yards while the Vikings had a player disqualified for two unsportsmanlike penalties.
The officials brought Craddock and Raper to the middle of the field with 9:13 remaining, and both coaches met with their teams shortly afterward, which mostly stopped the fighting.
“It absolutely makes me sick,” Craddock said. “I preach to them all the time, don’t get caught up in that mess because we’re better than that. It’s about guys have a little lack of discipline, which is not a reflection of how we try to do it at Tarboro.
“It was addressed throughout the game and to see it happen after it had been addressed, addressed, addressed, is frustrating. Football is an emotional game, but you can’t hurt the team because you can’t control your temper.”
Northern Nash 7
NN 7 0 0 0 – 7
T 0 0 21 0 – 21
NN – Jaquez Howington 1 run (Corbin Griffin kick), 5:08
T – Radja Bobbitt 1 run (kick failed), 8:26
T – Rayshawn Battle 38 run (conversion run failed), 8:09
T – Safety, 1:42
T – Bobbitt 2 run (Franklin Arias kick), 1:10
15 First downs.................14
116 Passing yards............0
229 Total offense.............292
Rushing – NN: Howington 16-79; Kendrick Richardson 2-13; Jaquez Avent 4-8; Michael Bertolino 2-6; Jacob Green 2-4; Quan Whitakers 2-3. T: Bobbitt 24-143; R. Battle 8-116; Tobias Pittman 5-19; Miltavious Hinton 2-3; Damian Johnson 3-2; Quantavious Battle 1-2; Malcolm Speller 1-(-1).
Passing – NN: Green 10-24-0, 116. T: Pittman 0-2.
Receiving – NN: Bertolino 5-62; Isacc Dupree 1-24; Kendal Hamilton 1-14; Kyree Clarke 1-3; Richardson 1-(-3).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com