The Firebirds dropped their first contest of the season Friday, losing, 33-27, at undefeated Wilson Fike.
After watching tape, Southern Nash coach Brian Foster said he thought his team played well with one exception: Big plays.
The Firebirds stuffed the Golden Demons’ running game, but allowed Fike to pick up nearly two-thirds of its 316 total yards on just four big plays, which included a 71-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that ended up being the game-winner.
The play occurred on a third-and-16, and Foster said it was that play and the few others that proved decisive for the Firebirds (6-1, 0-1 Big East).
“I thought we played pretty well except for three or four plays,” he said. “It was just the big plays. We couldn’t get off the field on third downs. We stopped their running game, which they like, but it was just those few plays.”
The Cougars picked up its most important victory to date with a 36-22 victory Friday at North Pitt.
Any conference opener is important, but SouthWest Edgecombe’s victory meant that much more because North Pitt, a team that lost only six seniors from a season ago, was the preseason pick to win the Eastern Plains Conference.
SouthWest Edgecombe (4-3, 1-0 EPC) intercepted a pair of passes and recovered a fumble to slow down a North Pitt team that averaged better than 30 points in its past four contests.
Marcus Williams finished with 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Barry Smith added 114 yards and a score.
“Our offensive line played their best game of the season,” Cougars coach Jonathan Cobb said.
Amid plenty of offensive woes Friday night, Nash Central’s defense proved that it might be good enough to keep the Bulldogs in games.
Despite recording negative-4 total yards, the Bulldogs (0-7, 0-1 Big East) nearly pulled out the upset before falling, 10-3, on a late play.
“They played lights out,” Crudup said of his team’s defense. “... Everybody knew their assignments. It was just one play. Take away that one play, and it’s a 3-3 tie, and we are going into overtime. Who knows what happens then.”
Nash Central’s defense held the Gryphons’ two big-play specialists – Brod Caudle and Rashawn Harris – to a combined four yards and allowed just three plays of more than 20 yards. But Crudup also said the team would address the offense this week, possibly even changing some personnel groupings.
With its two top playmakers buried by Nash Central’s defense Friday night during a 10-3 victory, the Gryphons turned to their quietest ball carrier.
Joseph Cooper finished with a game-high 90 yards on just seven carries, but he also had four of the Gryphons’ six longest plays of the night.
“Joseph is a quiet spirit,” Rocky Mount coach Jason Battle said. “Joseph has been around, he works. … He kind of takes a step back. He (has) continued to work, and the coaches are pleased with what he does. He plays hard. He does the little things.”
Cooper did most of his work on the outside and converted a key third-and-16 in the final minute to seal the victory for the Gryphons (6-1, 1-0 Big East).
In the final moments of the first half against North Edgecombe, Rocky Mount Prep’s chances collapsed. After dropping a touchdown pass, the Jaguars (1-6) watched as the Warriors completed a last-second touchdown pass to take a 12-point lead at the break.
While the Jaguars never quit, they never rallied and eventually lost, 52-22.
“It’s still the little things that turn into big things,” Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams said. “You drop touchdown passes. You drop the ball. You don’t line up properly. .. The little things, we just have to keep working to get better.”
The Jaguars will have to focus on the little things even more with a matchup against Tarboro on Friday. Reams compared his relationship with the Tarboro coaching staff to his relationship with his brothers, saying that as a boy he had a desire to beat his brothers in everything.
“He (Vikings coach Jeff Craddock) is going to come after us,” Reams said.
Besides being skilled and physical, Rocky Mount Academy coach B.W. Holt attributes his team’s 6-1 start to numbers.
The Eagles, who defeated Kinston Parrott Academy, 64-0, on Friday night, dressed more than 30 players for the game, while the visitors had only 17.
Holt said he is able to rotate, especially at skill positions such as running back and defensive back, and keep the Eagles fresh.
The results lend themselves to a relentless attack that has Rocky Mount Academy pushing so far ahead of opponents that non-stop clocks in the second half have become the norm.
“Our numbers help,” Holt said. “Other teams are playing three or four kids both ways, and we don’t have to.”
If this year has taught Tarboro players anything thus far, it has been to be prepared, whether one is a varsity or junior varsity player.
In Tarboro’s 51-8 home victory Friday against Robersonville South Creek, the Vikings’ JV backup quarterback, Dawson Harris, found himself inserted as the starter during the first quarter.
After coming into the night without their starting quarterback and losing their backup to a broken wrist, Harris, a freshman, was put into the lineup. Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock told Harris that he likely would play in the fourth quarter, but that scenario quickly changed.
“I thought he did a tremendous job of running our offense,” Craddock said. “I didn’t plan on him being out there in the first quarter.”
Warriors coach Keith Parisher was left with many of the same recurring concerns after his team’s 56-22 victory against Rocky Mount Prep on Friday.
“Offensively, we were OK,” Parisher said. “Defensively, we still have have work to do. We’ll look good for two plays, then we’ll have a letdown.”
Parisher said he still is concerned that his team is missing tackles and defensive assignments.
“We played against a lot of formations, and one of their touchdowns, we never got set to their formation,” Parisher said.
North Edgecombe, (4-2, 1-0 TRC), which has won three consecutive games, was paced by Rodney Conyers’ two-touchdown performance.
Penalties played a key part in Northern Nash’s 14-7 defeat to Wilson Hunt on Friday. The Knights cost themselves 41 yards in penalties in the first half alone, including three encroachment penalties on one drive.
“(They were) overanxious,” Northern Nash coach Randy Raper said. “All the offside penalties, it’s just being a little anxious, listening to the cadence and not looking at the ball.”
On the Knights’ final drive, they were penalized for delay of game three times, inclduing twice in goal-to-go situations. The penalties frustrated Northern Nash, and Raper said it will have to eliminate them to beat Big East Conference teams.
“They’re correctable things, but against a good football team, you can’t make those mistakes,” he said.