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War Eagle rally falls short

The bliss from Page/North Davidson/Mooresville gave way to less pleasant emotions Friday at West Rowan.

In a 24-21 nonconference loss to the Falcons, Davie’s football team put on a clinic of how to shoot yourself in the foot frequently and with dire consequences. Not everything went right during the 3-0 start during which the War Eagles won by an aggregate 13 points. But their mistakes were camouflaged by clutch plays at money time.

This time they couldn’t overcome the mistakes. There were 10 penalties for 100 yards. There were three turnovers to West’s one. There were dropped passes/near-misses. Did the law of averages finally catch up to Davie?

Coach Tim Devericks said: “The little things that we’ve gotten away with, we weren’t able to overcome them tonight. We had ill-timed penalties. It finally caught up with us tonight.”

Davie (3-1) stumbled after its best start in 13 years and days after cracking the top 20 in the CarolinaPreps.com 4-A power rankings. Meanwhile, West coach Joe Nixon reveled in a moment of relief a week after a maddeningly frustrating 28-13 home loss to Cox Mill in which the Falcons (2-2) committed five turnovers.

“That was big for our team,” Nixon said. “We told them to keep trusting. There were a lot of doubters. Davie is a phenomenal team, but I knew what I had in my locker room. I knew if they played well, we had a shot.”

The Falcons’ ground attack – they ran the ball 56 times and attempted seven passes – controlled the clock and kept Davie’s high-octane offense off the field. Davie’s defense allowed just 218 rushing yards to Page/N. Davidson/Mooresville; it gave up 220 to W. Rowan.

Davie quarterback Nate Hampton threw for 210 yards, but that was 201 fewer than he put up against Mooresville. He threw two TD passes, half the number he had against N. Davidson and Mooresville. That wasn’t all about West’s defense. Dropped passes and near-misses deep down the field hurt Davie.

Nixon: “Our game plan was to keep their offense off the field, and our guys did a great job of that.”

Davie seized the momentum in the first quarter. Senior defensive lineman Paul Pollard had two tackles for loss in a span of three plays, and Hampton connected with Jack Reynolds for 46 yards to the West 1. Reynolds gained 19 of those yards after the catch. Josh Robinson punched it in on the next play to cap a 12-play, 98-yard drive.

With a 7-0 lead, Davie appeared to get a third-down stop at the West 38. But no. A late-hit penalty extended a West possession that wound up going the distance. Fourteen of 15 plays were runs. Sophomore QB Noah Loeblein attempted his first pass on the first play of the second quarter, and it resulted in 15 yards. The first of three touchdowns by running back Michael Gonsalves and the extra point tied the game at 7.

Davie surged from its 27 to the West 45 in five plays, but that drive was ruined by West defensive lineman Chaz McCombs, who hit Hampton’s arm and then jumped on the fumble at midfield.

West didn’t cash in Davie’s first turnover, but a punt pinned Davie at its 13 and linebacker Baiden Suddarth made his presence felt on first down. He reached high to intercept an over-the-middle pass for Robinson. The second Davie turnover in a little over two minutes teed up West at the Davie 13. Five runs by Gonsalves, a 215-pound bruiser, gave West a 14-7 lead.

Nixon: “Normally we leave two ‘backers in the box, but I wanted to force them to run the ball. I thought it would be tough for them to run against our front and linebackers, so Baiden’s job was to stay in the middle and read the quarterback. He made a heck of a play.”

Loeblein only completed three passes, but two of them produced spectacular moments for West. On the second play of the second half, the explosive Jalen Houston was wide open deep and the 66-yard play took the ball to the Davie 1. Gonsalves scored on second down to widen the gap to 21-7.

After West scored 21 unanswered points in 11 minutes, 48 seconds, Davie erased that damage in a span of 3:05. Hampton was masterful during an 11-play, 75-yard drive, completing seven of eight passes. On second-and-26, Robinson turned a screen pass into 14 yards. On third-and-12, Hampton fired deep down the middle. Two Falcons had a shot to at least knock it away. Tate Carney caught it instead at the West 25, and he sailed home for a 41-yard TD.

After the Davie defense got a three-and-out, Carney dominated a seven-play drive, accounting for 48 of 58 yards. He scored from 17 yards out on a wheel route, and just like that it was 21-21 with 4:04 left in the third.

That turned out to be Carney’s final play of the game, however. He suffered an injury the play before his seventh TD in four games. Davie did not have its dangerous running back/receiver weapon for its last three series.

The Falcons responded with an outstanding time-consuming drive. Ty’Kese Warren went high to snag a 36-yard reception at the Davie 39. On second-and-17, Davie’s Matthew Hill almost had Houston eight yards behind the line. Houston pulled a Houdini, escaping trouble and gaining 29 yards around left end. (It’s the longest run against Davie all year.) A 15-yard late hit penalty was tacked on, advancing the ball to the Davie 12.

Houston is primarily a receiver who played a big role in the backfield. The senior blazer gained 90 of his 108 rushing yards in the second half.

Nixon: “I don’t think he’s had (100 rushing yards in a game) since he’s been here. With (Gonsalves and Cayleb Brawley) pounding inside, they got into a bear front. So they overloaded us to the inside. We knew Jalen could get to the edge as long as we didn’t get a penalty on the edge.”

Devericks: “When he gets behind those big guys, you can’t find him. Next thing you know, he’s outside or going through a crease. He’s a great runner.”

West would pound out 82 yards in 15 plays and devour 7:04 off the clock. Fredrico Cruz provided what proved to be the decisive points by hitting a 19-yard field goal. But give Davie’s defense credit for forcing West to settle for three. The War Eagles stacked up Brawley on first-and-goal from the 3. Linebacker Trevor Richardson and Co. stoned Brawley for a loss on second down. Loeblein threw incomplete on third down.

Devericks: “We stuck together and we kept battling. I know they believed on the sideline that it was going to turn out like every other game. But finally the little things caught up with us.”

Davie failed to take advantage of Reynolds’ 20-yard punt return to the West 44, but Kristian Lyons’ interception on a long pass gave Davie new life. He returned his second pick of the season seven yards to the West 43 with 3:40 to go. When Robinson bounced outside for 14 yards on a first-down run, the road fans could sense another dramatic victory developing.

The War Eagles pulled off second-half rallies the previous two weeks. But this rally did not bear fruit. They spit the bit after Robinson’s 14-yarder. On third-and-7 from the West 26, Reynolds got open over the middle. He appeared to get hit in the back before the ball arrived. No flag. It was now fourth down. Hampton scrambled to his left, buying as much time as he could. He finally had to get rid of it and it was picked by Reggie Everhart around the West 5. Houston’s four runs killed the remaining 2:21, and West celebrated a second win in two years over Davie.

Devericks: “Nate was scrambling and knew he had to get rid of it. So he was just trying to make a play at that point.”

Nixon: “The defense bled slow. We stuck to the game plan on offense – run the ball, run the ball and pick our shots. Just a great win for our kids.”

Notes: Davie came in ranked No. 17 in the power rankings. Three conference rivals were ranked higher: No. 5 East Forsyth, No. 10 West Forsyth and No. 11 Reagan. … There were 18 flags in all, with West committing eight for 70 yards. … Twelve of Hampton’s 18 completions went to Carney (6-94) and Robinson (6-52). Carney just missed his third straight 100-yard receiving game. … Davie was playing shorthanded, missing Ben Norman and Hunter Meacham on defense and receiver Zymere Hudson on offense. On top of that, Carney did not play the final 16:04.