War Eagles beat Mooresville

Published 9:26 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

Don’t count out Davie’s football team just yet.

The War Eagles got off the canvas in head-turning fashion last Thursday against visiting Mooresville, breaking into the win column with a decisive 34-13 victory.

Davie’s offense remains a work in progress – it did take strides with the return of Mason Wilson – but the defense was salty even with several guys out with injuries and special teams dominated throughout as Davie improved to 1-2 in nonconference play. Mooresville fell to 1-1 as the teams met for the first time in 11 years.

“When they got to practice Monday (following a 28-7 loss at North Davidson), their juice and energy was phenomenal,” coach Tim Devericks said. “It was just awesome.”

The Blue Devils were coming off a bye and had two weeks to prepare. But they weren’t prepared for Wilson, a senior who was making his season debut.

Wilson, who played both ways, reintroduced himself to fans while providing immediate fireworks. On a third-and-12 play on Mooresville’s first series, quarterback Hunter Deberardino looked deep. Linebacker Cody Hendrix, who was an absolute heat-seeking missile all night, popped the QB in the midsection as he fired. Wilson intercepted at the Davie 41. Wilson was a receiver only as a varsity starter in ‘16.

“We’ve had injuries and setbacks in the secondary, so we had to scramble and coach ‘em up,” Devericks said. “Mason felt comfortable (at cornerback). He played his technique and made a play.”

“They started playing me there (the week of the North Davidson game),” Wilson said. “I’m a good learner and I miss defense. I said: ‘Hey coach, does defense have tackling circuit today?’ He said: ‘Yeah, come on.’ I just went over there.”

Three plays into Davie’s first series, Wilson made a splash on offense. Quarterback Josh Hall lofted a beautiful ball on third-and-8, and Wilson made an over-the-shoulder catch down the sideline at the Mooresville 24. The 33-yard play was just what the doctor ordered for a unit that arrived with a fragile psyche. Four plays later, Peyton Hampton scored from the 3 as sophomore left guard Tanner Batten put a d-lineman on his rear. After Skyler Schoppe’s extra point, Davie had a 7-0 lead less than four minutes in.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Devericks said of Wilson. “He made a huge play for our team. We just needed a spark. We’d been so close for two weeks, and the spark that was lit there got the belief going.”

“I love being out there with these boys,” Wilson said. “I love them all to death and it felt like home.”

On Mooresville’s next play, Broc Barnette saved a touchdown by running down Mooresville running back Lazarus Hayes from behind at the Davie 3, a classic hustle play that prevented an 82-yard score. Davie would respond with a defensive stand.

On first down, Kinston Whitener dropped Hayes for a 1-yard loss. On second down, Deberardino ran an option right. Hunter Meacham had leverage on the edge. Deberardino tried to cut in but slipped for a 2-yard loss. On third down, Hayes tried the left end but lost 3 yards as C. Hendrix crashed in breathing fire. Mooresville decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 9 – a curious gamble – and it backfired. Hayes got the handoff on a counter play. He only picked up 3 yards as Bishop Norman and Whitener combined on the stop.

On paper, the Davie defense was down a few notches going in. One of the unit’s war daddies, safety Hite Merrifield, is sidelined for the year with an injury after playing just six quarters. Cornerback De’maura Isaac missed his second game with an injury. Lineman Ronald Wilson was also out with an injury.

But Bishop Norman played fearlessly as the replacement for R. Wilson, starting alongside Jalen Redmond and Anthony Olmedo. Ben Norman and Andy Flores rotated in.

“You’ve got to have a lot of bodies on the DL to rotate, especially with the big guys that we have,” Devericks said. “I’m really proud of them.”

With Merrifield out, Mitchell Ijames slid from corner to safety. Sophomore Samuel Hendrix has filled in at corner for Isaac.

“That’s Mitchell’s home,” Devericks said. “He’s a safety first. We can put him at corner, at safety and get a rotation going.”

After Meacham batted down a second-down pass, Barnette intercepted on third down. He showed off his freakish athleticism during a 47-yard return to the end zone, although the TD was called back by a penalty behind the play. Backed up to the Mooresville 18, Davie failed to cash in as Hall took a hit as he threw. The ball was over M. Wilson and intercepted in the end zone.

It didn’t matter because Davie’s special teams made up for it moments later. Whitener, who was in a three-point stance when Mooresville lined up to punt, sped through untouched and blocked it. Redmond scooped and scored from the 12, with Olmedo, C. Hendrix and Whitener creating a convoy. It was 14-0 with 2:22 left in the first quarter.

“Those linebackers play hard every play, and they do what they’re coached to do,” Devericks said. “Getting a blocked kick in a game like that is awesome.”

“Nobody picked me up,” Whitener said. “I had to help the team out. It was great teamwork. It got us momentum to keep on going.”

The Blue Devils’ march from their 20 to Davie’s 33 stalled. On third-and-9, they called Hayes’ number, but he was met first by Olmedo and then by Whitener. Result: 3-yard loss.

Mooresville’s next offensive series began with the other running back, Quamir Conner, losing 2 yards. Credit Meacham, a sophomore outside linebacker who is playing beyond his years.

“He’s taking to his coaching really well,” Devericks said. “He’s a good athlete. He’s maybe a little outsized right now, but he’s learning and making plays. There’s a bright future for him.”

C. Hendrix took care of the next two plays, stopping Conner for no gain and sacking Deberardino 9 yards behind the line. C. Hendrix had a monster game, but what’s new?

“He’s the bell cow for our team,” Devericks said. “He’s got great instincts. He’s got great discipline to read his keys. And once he knows what his key has told him, it’s full go. Maximum effort. It’s nonstop. That brings up the level for the whole defense, and the offense sees that as well.”

After C. Hendrix’s back-to-back plays, it was fourth-and-21. The punter bobbled a low snap, disrupting the timing of the play. Barnette blocked the punt without jumping, simply reaching out his right hand. Davie took over at the Mooresville 11. Hampton would score his second TD from the 4. He had two rushing TDs in the first 18 minutes after Davie had no such scores in the first two games.

From the muddle-huddle formation, C. Hendrix snapped it wide to the left to Josh Robinson, who followed six blockers into the end zone for two points and a 22-0 bulge.

Less than two minutes later, C. Hendrix shook off two blockers to bury Deberardino for an 8-yard loss. That set up a punt-return TD by freshman Jack Reynolds, who picked up key blocks from S. Hendrix, Meacham and Olmedo to shake and bake 52 yards to paydirt.

At 28-0 with 4:28 left in the half, the game was settled.

The Blue Devils did drive 78 yards to get on the board – C. Hendrix blocked the PAT to keep it 28-6 – but they had zero momentum when Ben Summers placed a punt 34 yards to the Mooresville 1, the ball being downed by Ijames. Five of Summers’ eight punts on the year have pinned opponents inside their 20.

“They love Wednesdays when we work on sky punt,” Devericks said. “They have a challenge to see who can get it the closest (to the goal line).”

On first down, Malik Birchett made a 5-yard reception to give Mooresville a little breathing room. Deberardino looked for Birchett again on third down, but Ijames jumped the hitch route and returned the interception 9 yards for a TD and a 34-6 lead.

“They got him (on first down),” Devericks said. “Then he had good footwork, broke on the ball and made a great play.”

“The dude (Birchett) started pointing to himself like he was going to run the same thing,” Ijames said. “I was like: ‘OK, he’s going to run the hitch.’ I did like we’re taught in practice, and I went and got it.”

Mooresville’s other points came from its defense – Jaleel Johnson intercepted a pass at the Davie 7 and took it in – but it wasn’t costly because only eight minutes remained.

The Blue Devils controlled some major statistics – they had 14 first downs to Davie’s eight, 192 rushing yards to Davie’s 73 and 224 total yards to Davie’s 151 – but Davie’s defense and special teams offset that with three TDs between those two units. Mooresville went 2 for 14 on third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth. Deberardino, who was filling in for the injured starting QB, threw as many interceptions (three) as completions.

Notes: M. Wilson was a bigger playmaker than his two catches for 49 yards suggests. He was responsible for 32 percent of the offense. His 33-yard reception was the longest of the year. Mooresville was guilty of pass interference on a deep ball to Wilson. And Wilson opened the second half with a 50-yard kickoff return to the Mooresville 43. … Part of the reason for Davie’s nearly flawless defensive performance was Whitener. “In the first game (against Page), Kinston was victim of some reverses,” Devericks said. “He showed his discipline tonight. They tried him again – they’ve obviously watched film – on the reverse. Kinston made a bunch of plays that might not go down as tackles, but he was forcing it back in to let Cody or Matthew King make the tackle.” … Hampton’s No. 1 job is running back, but he also saw action at outside linebacker. “We’re really thin right now,” Devericks said. “We’ve got some people out that should be back (this) week. We try to get Peyton some safety work and some outside ‘backer. He’s been there before, so he has prior knowledge to it. He gives us some flexibility.” … Barnette’s INT was his second in two games.