Riddle’s rise began at South Davie

Published 9:51 am Thursday, November 12, 2020

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First in a series on new Davie hall of famer Billy Riddle.

If you’ve never heard Billy Riddle’s story, settle in because it’s something.

It’s hard to be more dominant in football and wrestling than Riddle was at South Davie Middle.

At Davie High, Riddle wrestled on varsity for two years, but football was where he made his name. There’s no debate whether he ranks among the best safeties of all time – only where after he made 165 tackles in 2003 and 381 during his three-year varsity career from 2001-03. At the time, both totals ranked second in the Davie record book, both trailing Patrick Lowery, who made 174 tackles in 2001 and 457 from 1999-01.

Then Riddle took his football talent to Appalachian State and helped the Mountaineers win the their first-ever national championship in 2005.

As good as Riddle was on the field, he was even better off the field. Few athletes could meet his standard for warmth, courtesy and heart.

The Davie High Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2021 includes Riddle (2004), Jonette Williard (1996), Duane Phillips (2000), John McDaniel (2006) and the 1994-95 girls basketball team (25-2 record).

1998 Seventh-Grade Football

Before the 1998 seventh-grade season, South Davie coaches would have taken a win – any win – from this team. Seven of 24 players had suited up for football before 1998. That’s why coach Todd Bumgarner, who called the shots on offense in the opener as head coach Barry Whitlock traveled with the eighth-grade team, walked with a spring in his step after a 28-6 drubbing of Northwest Cabarrus.

“It really tickled me,” Bumgarner said. “I wasn’t expecting to go out there and control the game like we did.”

Whitlock endorsed Riddle, a halfback/linebacker, as one of the Piedmont Conference’s sharpest weapons before the season, and Riddle did not disappoint, carrying the Tigers to a 20-0 halftime lead. On the first play from scrimmage, Maurice Wilson threw a 32-yard halfback pass to Riddle, who scored on two runs, returned an interception 50 yards and accounted for all 20 first-half points in South’s wishbone attack.

In a 20-8 win over Concord, Riddle overwhelmed the Goldminers with 116 rushing yards, 44 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“We don’t have any big guys, we don’t have any size and we don’t have much speed,” Whitlock said. “They really play hard and play together.”

Then South pulled a 28-26 stunner over Mooresville.

“That ranks as the second biggest win behind (48-46 over Concord in the 1996 conference championship game),” Whitlock said. “And probably talent-wise, it’s the biggest win I’ve ever had.”

The Tigers were behind late in the fourth and facing third-and-12. Andrew McClannon ignited a game-winning drive by hitting Riddle on a backdoor pass, and Riddle raced 50 yards to the Mooresville 18 with 1:14 on the clock. Three ineffective runs later, South was backed in a corner: fourth-and-8 at the 12 with 18 seconds to go. Whitlock tossed the playbook out like a rotten apple and drew up a play in the dirt.

“I said: ‘Listen up. Maurice, you’ve got to fake it like you ain’t never faked it before. Andrew, you’ve got to bootleg out to the right. And Billy, you’ve got to run the flag pattern,’” Whitlock said. “I drew it on the back of (left guard) Paul Williams’ helmet.”

Wilson faked a run, McClannon rolled out and floated a pass to Riddle, who was shadowed by two alert defenders. Somehow, Riddle reeled it in for a game-tying catch. On the two-point play, Riddle sailed across the goal line untouched. Wilson finished off the Red Imps with an interception. Riddle finished with 120 yards on 19 carries and three TDs. Wilson added 108 yards on 10 carries.

Against J.N. Fries, Wilson pulled down a pass from Riddle with no time on the clock as the scrappy Tigers celebrated their second miraculous win in as many weeks, 12-6.

“It’s probably the least athletic team I’ve ever had, but with their desire and heart and guts, they’re probably one of the top two (teams) I’ve ever had,” Whitlock said.

With the score 6-6, South stopped Fries on fourth down at the South 35 with 1:44 left. Riddle’s 22-yard reception on a backdoor pass from McClannon ignited a magical march. Riddle’s 32-yard run off tackle moved South to the Fries 9. Two incompletions left one second on the clock. Without the luxury of a timeout, Whitlock switched Riddle from halfback to quarterback and Wilson from halfback to receiver.

“I moved them because Billy was kind of winded and Maurice can jump a little bit higher and is a little bit taller than Billy,” Whitlock said.

After a penalty moved South back to the 14, Riddle rolled left and found Wilson in the end zone. Touchdown. Riddle accounted for 163 receiving/rushing yards – not to mention the TD pass.

“A guy gets a hold of his jersey, he gets away and it looks like Billy’s going to run the ball,” Whitlock said. “He stops, throws it in the back of the end zone and Maurice gets his feet down in bounds.”

After the 4-0 start, Kannapolis spoiled South’s quest for an unbeaten season. The Tigers failed twice to score in the red zone and lost 6-0.

Going into the final game of the regular season, South needed a win over Northwest Cabarrus coupled with a Mooresville win over Kannapolis to clinch the Southern Division title. Guess what happened? South won 20-6 behind Riddle’s two TDs, Mooresville dispatched Kannapolis 16-6, and South had the division crown and a berth in the Piedmont Conference championship game.

Erwin captured the Northern Division. South and Erwin clashed at Mooresville High. The Tigers held to a 16-8 lead at the end of the third, but they ran out of gas and lost 28-16.

“Every one of them were in tears after the game,” Whitlock said.

South was behind 22-16 with possession at its 43, but Riddle’s third-down pass was picked off and returned 60 yards for a decisive TD with under two minutes to play. Riddle piled up 102 yards on 16 carries as South settled for a 5-2 record.

“They gave it 110 percent,” Whitlock said. “It was a dream season.”

Riddle rushed for over 700 yards in seven games and anchored the defense at middle linebacker despite being “slowed by injuries,” Whitlock said. “His leg gave him trouble all year. He got a pulled groin, he kept aggravating it and really I don’t think he played at 100 percent in any game.”

1999 Eighth-Grade Football

In a thrilling season opener that counted as a nonconference game, South’s eighth-grade squad rallied for a 20-14 overtime win over archrival North Davie.

With South trailing 14-8 and a little over three minutes left in regulation, everybody knew the backdoor pass was coming sooner or later. And yet: South’s money play resulted in a McClannon-to-Riddle 20-yard completion on third-and-7, moving South to the North 2. North’s courageous defense stuffed South on first, second and third downs as the clock dipped to :12. But fullback Mitchell Roberts plowed two yards for the game-tying TD to force OT. (North stopped the two-point conversion to stay alive.)

The Wildcats got first crack in OT, but they fell a foot short of the goal line on fourth down. On fourth-and-goal for South, McClannon hit halfback Wilson on – you guessed it – the backdoor pass. Wilson dug out a low throw, weaved through traffic and clinched a one-for-the-books victory.

Earlier, North’s Brandon Pane, who had nine runs for 114 yards and also made 14 tackles, scampered 70 yards to set up Justin Norsworthy’s 11-yard TD to give North the 14-8 lead. Riddle finished with 13 carries for 91 yards.

“I think it carried over from last year,” Whitlock said. “We won two games on the last play of the game. It’s built in these kids. They keep believing in themselves.”

In a 19-6 win over China Grove, McClannon showcased his enhanced arm, completing a bomb to Jason Winters, who raced 80 yards to extend South’s lead to 13-0 and send South toward victory in its conference opener.

“(McClannon) went to football camp at Davie and I’ve worked with him every day,” Whitlock said.

After China Grove cut the margin to 13-6, Riddle took over, powering for 12 and 57 yards and driving a stake through the Red Devils’ hearts. Riddle had 175 yards on 15 carries, while Roberts supplied 84 yards on 14 attempts.

“Billy is sneaky fast,” Whitlock said. “He reads his blocks and keeps two hands on the ball. We got good blocks out of our backs and linemen (Jason Smoot, Ben Gobble, Derek Foster, Dustin Mise, Jamon Jefferies and tight end Josh Riddle) because Billy was getting five or six yards before he was getting hit.”

In a 20-6 loss to West Rowan, South played on even terms in the first half (6-6) before succumbing to the Bulldogs’ superior athleticism. Riddle powered for 159 yards on 22 carries, Jefferies helped South control the line of scrimmage and Scott Maxwell and Gobble led a defense that held West to its lowest output. But it wasn’t enough.

Riddle ran for 90 yards in a 14-0 win over Corriher-Lipe. Riddle (154), Roberts (71) and Wilson (64) combined for 289 rushing yards in a 44-12 rout of Erwin.

But if one game could capture what Riddle meant over two seasons, it was an 18-6 win over Knox. The 140-pound workhorse pounded out 174 yards on 26 attempts and carried the Tigers, who scored on their first three possessions.

“I’m going to tell you, that young man pound for pound is the best player in the conference,” Whitlock said. “And they were all between the tackles. We lined up with two tight ends and said: ‘Here we come, the best man wins.’”

Because a game had to be rescheduled, South played two games in three days to end the season. In a dominating 35-6 win over North Rowan, Riddle gained 224 yards and Roberts added 70. Two days later, Riddle ran for 214 in a 20-14 win over Kannapolis.

For the week, Riddle pounded out 438 yards on 56 carries, lifting South to five straight wins and a 7-1 record. He had 1,281 yards on the season, an average of 160 per game.

“It was bam, bam, bam,” Whitlock said. “He was like a pinball. I’ve got to give credit to our offensive line (Foster, Gobble, Jody Dillard, Mise, Chris Blakley, Jason Smoot and J.R. Jones). They were sending seven, eight people and I give all the credit to the linemen and (fullbacks) Tyler Lowe and Mitchell Roberts.”

Over two years, South won 12 of 15 games. “This group’s been special,” Whitlock said. “This was one of the most – if not the most – enjoyable teams I’ve had for two years.”

1998-99 Wrestling

Not to anyone’s surprise, Riddle was an immediate star on the wrestling mat as well. After his 3-0 start as a seventh grader, coach Matt Wilson said: “He looks sharp. He looks like a kid that’s been on the mat for a couple seasons.”

During a 5-0 start that looked effortless, he had four first-period pins. “Riddle is so smooth,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t put himself in a position where he’s going to be in trouble.”

The Tigers whipped their first nine opponents by a combined score of 663-129. North Davie was 12-0 after stomping opponents  888-139. When the two undefeated teams met at North, it was a blockbuster matchup that drew a packed-house crowd. South triumphed 45-27 to cap an 11-0 season, including 10-0 in the Piedmont Conference. North went on to finish 13-1, 9-1.

“We were the best we could possibly be,” Wilson said. “My guys were just as pumped for it as they could be.”

Eleven days after winning the regular-season title, the Tigers captured the 13-team conference tournament with 250 points to second-place North’s 219. Larry Hudson (96), Riddle (128), Michael Clement (143), Ryan Barber (148), Adrian Pacheco (163) and Kenny Gray (174) won their weight classes for South. North’s champions were Colt Stanley (133), Armand Vonsiatsky (155) and Trent Young (250). The top season records from South belonged to Hudson (13-0), Clement (13-0), Carson Glass (13-1), Riddle (12-0) and Barber (12-1).

“Riddle is phenomenal,” Wilson said. “He is a real coachable student. He knows exactly what to do. You tell him one time and he’s going to do what you tell him.”

1999-00 Wrestling

Wilson stepped down as coach and his veteran assistant, Howard Riddle, took the helm.

A 45-38 heart-pounding win over West Rowan produced one of the greatest comebacks you’ll see. The Tigers trailed 32-12 with six weight classes to go. They responded with six wins. Foster pinned and Florencio Rojas pulled out an 11-10 decision. After Riddle got a forfeit, Gobble, D.J. Rice and Roberts capped a 33-0 run with pins.

“We had to be perfect,” coach Riddle said. “One mistake and we could have been beaten, and we didn’t make that mistake. Down 32-12 and winning six in a row shows a lot of guts and heart.”

Against NW Cabarrus, Riddle actually had to work for a win. He was pushed to the third period by an undefeated opponent, not that he was ever threatened. He led 4-0 before lowering the boom on his eighth pin victim in 10 matches.

North and South both went 9-0 in the conference. Their showdown was snowed out, so they shared the regular-season title.

North used extraordinary balance to win the conference tournament with 230.5 points. Considering nine of South’s 14 starters were seventh graders or first-year eighth graders and it forfeited every time at heavyweight, coach Riddle gladly banked a 12-0 regular season and tournament runner-up with 206 points. “There’s 11 other teams that would like to be where we are,” he said.

Riddle punctuated a 15-0 rampage – and 27-0 South career – with three pins. Roberts and Gobble went 14-1 and Anton McNeil 13-1.

“I don’t think he gave up any points in the three (tournament) matches,” coach Riddle said. “Billy had two great years. I mean, you don’t see many kids come through and go two years undefeated.”