Thursday, November 21, 2013
By NOAH FEIT
The North Augusta High School football team didn’t waste any time showing how it can convert big plays into quick points on Friday in the first round of the Class AAAA, Division II playoffs. The Yellow Jackets scored less than three minutes into the game and never looked back. They scored 21 points in the final 4:35 of the first half as they steadily added to their lead in a 42-11 victory over Laurens.
“They can make plays,” Raiders head coach Greg Lawson said of North Augusta (11-1), which will play another game at the Jackets Nest next Friday when it plays host to Beaufort, which defeated Blythewood 23-15.
At the start of the game, it was Laurens (6-6) that tried to go for the big play. They opened the game with an onside kick that didn’t work when the Yellow Jackets recovered it. The risk didn’t hurt them as they forced North Augusta to punt, but the continued bold play came back to bite them on the next series.
Senior Quinn Suber, one of two quarterbacks Laurens uses, came out firing on a possession that started on his own 12-yard line. He threw an incompletion then was picked off by Luke Smith when he tried to go deep down the right sideline. Smith easily snared the ball and returned it 35 yards giving his squad first-and-goal from the 7. The Jackets only needed one play as senior running back/linebacker Ronald Williams powered his way into the end zone for the first score.
The Raiders were undeterred, and looked for another big play. They hit one on the next possession when Toby Jackson, the other signal caller, connected with Chris McDowell on a 63-yard pass and catch. It set up a 21-yard field goal that would make the score as close as it would be the rest of the night.
North Augusta scored on its next possession, driving 64 yards in six plays. It’s fast-paced offense only used 1:23 of game time to score, with Willie McCloud doing the honors. Another senior running back, McCloud shot up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown run. McCloud finding success up the middle was an ongoing thing, as he did most of his damage in between the hashes, carrying the ball 23 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
“We saw some stuff that they did and did a good job running the ball inside the tackles,” North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin said.
McCloud was especially tough after halftime, when the Raiders knew the Yellow Jackets would try to take the air out of the ball by running it. McCloud was also the only North Augusta ball carrier in the second half, as his regular backfield mate, Dashawn Barnes, sat out with a leg injury and Williams was only used on defense. Despite those factors, McCloud ran the ball 15 times for 88 yards and one of his touchdowns – a 23-yard run up the gut.
“Their running back had a great game,” Lawson said. “He’s a good athlete and made some great runs. He’s very shifty.”
McCloud scored his second touchdown with 4:35 to play in the second quarter. It was a 15-yard spring up the middle, which capped off a six-play, 51-yard drive that was set up by a tremendous 43-yard punt return by Keyon West. The score gave the Jackets greater breathing room and sparked a spree to close out the first half.
On the ensuing Laurens’ possession Jackson was picked off again by Smith, one of four North Augusta interceptions in the game. With time running out and the ball on their own 11, it looked like the Jackets would be hard pressed to beat the clock, much less twice. But they only needed two plays, as West turned a simple 10-yard out pattern near the sticks into an 87-yard sprint down the sideline for a touchdown. West caught a pass from Trib Reece (15-for-23, 191 yards, two touchdowns) near the sideline, spun away from his defender and was untouched for more than 70 yards as he ran into the end zone.
“It wasn’t anything spectacular. It was a deep hitch and we missed the tackle and he scores,” Lawson said. “If we make the tackle he gets 10 yards.”
West said there was a little more to the play than that.
“I realized they weren’t good down-field tacklers and was happy to make a play.”
West made another spectacular play just eight snaps later. North Augusta made another big play on defense, as it forced Jackson to fumble on a strip sack that saw the ball rolling loose before Williams smothered it on the Laurens’ 30. After getting a first down, Reece looked to the end zone and was rewarded by West who made an acrobatic, spinning catch as he was falling out of bounds in the corner of the end zone. He was able to get possession of the ball and a foot in bounds for a 20-yard score.
“He’s pretty good,” Pippin demurred of the catch that came with 42 seconds in the half. “He made that play in the corner of the end zone.”
“I just saw the ball and had to go get it,” explained West, who finished with eight receptions for 145 yards and the two scores. “Offensively, we’ve got a bunch of weapons and can make a play at any moment.”
Laurens scored on a trick play in the third quarter, but wouldn’t find the end zone again as the Jackets’ defense bent but didn’t break. While Pippin was pleased with the win, he felt his squad made too many little mistakes in a game littered with numerous penalties on both sides.
“We’ve got work to do,” he said, crediting Laurens for being a very good team. “It’s always good to win in the playoffs, I don’t care how. It could be 3-2. If we clean things up, we’ll be fine.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.