Riddle second in tackles as varsity sophomore

Published 9:53 am Thursday, November 19, 2020

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Second in a series on new hall of famer Billy Riddle.

Billy Riddle’s talent was evident Day One of his freshman football season at Davie. The only question was whether Riddle was going to dominate on offense or defense.

“We had some arguments amongst the coaches,” Davie JV football coach Lee Linville said in the summer of 2000. “We compensated and gave (the defense) Riddle. They wanted both (Derek Cornatzer and Riddle), but we have to have a tailback in our offense.”

Although Riddle had piled up 1,281 yards while leading South Davie’s eighth-grade team to 7-1 the year before, he gracefully accepted his defensive role at free safety.

“He doesn’t get caught up in seeing his name in the paper,” Linville said. “He’s not a kid that talks a whole lot. He just goes about his business. He’ll be the star defensive player in a couple years.”

The 2000 JV season began with a 14-6 win at North Iredell. McKenzie Willoughby threw a 40-yard touchdown to Larry Hudson, and Riddle’s 60-yard punt return made it 14-0. “Brandon Pane and Billy Riddle had a bunch of tackles,” Linville said.

Davie suffered back-to-back painful losses, the first a 7-6 home setback to Ledford. Then came a 20-14 double-overtime stinger at Salisbury. Kicker Kevin Winters forced OT by converting a 21-yarder as time expired in regulation. With the score 14-14 in the bottom of the first OT, Riddle came up with an interception. It wasn’t enough, however, to prevent narrow defeat.

But Davie recovered beautifully, closing the season on a six-game winning streak. The streak started with a 20-0 home win over North Davidson. Justin Norsworthy scored on a 42-yard fumble return, and Riddle forced two fumbles with bone-jarring hits.

At Central Davidson, the offense sputtered without Cornatzer (ankle), but a relentless defense needed little help in 3-0 victory. The difference was a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter by the clutch freshman, Winters. Riddle protected the lead with two picks, including one in the end zone on the game’s final play.

A backup running back storming over 100 yards would usually constitute a monumental surprise, but Davie fans already knew about Riddle’s running ability from his South Davie days. After spending five games in the secondary, Riddle replaced the injured Cornatzer at RB and ran 20 times for 132 yards to help lead a 10-7 comeback win at West Forsyth.

“All along everybody’s been on us: ‘Why ain’t you running Riddle?’” Linville said. “We know Billy can run well. But he’s probably going to be a defensive player on the varsity as a sophomore next year, and on the JV we’re trying to get him ready for next year. With (sophomore) Mike Clement, Billy is not going to get a chance to run the ball until he’s a senior.”

When it was 0-0, Gareth White had an interception at the Davie 5. Fullback Kenny Gray (9-71 rushing) came through wonderfully during both scoring drives, converting a fourth-and-1 to set up Riddle’s game-tying 11-yarder with 5:18 to go. Then the reliable defense came through as Jeremy West knocked the ball loose. Norsworthy recovered the fumble and Davie roared to the West 1, where it faced fourth-and-1 at :38. Winters delivered as always with an 18-yard game-winner.

Hudson was a one-man highlight show in a 21-14 home win over South Rowan, catching TD passes of 30, 50 and 37 yards. Andrew McClannon threw two of them, and receiver Matt McAnally threw the other on a reverse pass. Gray bulled his way for 89 yards on nine rushes. Norsworthy intercepted at midfield to crush South’s last-gasp drive. Riddle picked off a pass and delivered the hit of the night on the kickoff team.

“It looked like a hole was opening up and Riddle came flying out of nowhere and creamed the guy,” Linville said.

Davie unveiled a goal-line package during a 27-22 home win over Reynolds. Curtis Matthews, a 6-2, 393-pound nose guard who became known as “The Freezer,” assumed the short-yardage role after an impressive practice audition.

“I’m going to tell you what, we didn’t stop him all week in practice,” Linville said.

After Cornatzer followed a Matthews lead block to the Reynolds 12, “The Freezer” covered the rest of the distance in two smashing runs. McAnally, who mastered the reverse pass, completed a 36-yarder to Hudson, who made an incredible catch for a TD. Matthews’ two-point run pushed the lead to 16-6. Davie gave Reynolds chances down the stretch, but Kevin Boger recovered two fourth-quarter fumbles inside the Davie 5. After a safety pulled the Demons within 27-22, Josh Wallace’s INT slammed the door.

“The losses we had were two we could have won,” Linville said. “But that probably made us hungry and made the guys work that much harder.”

An unheralded freshman QB, McClannon, had replaced an injured Willoughby in Week 2. McClannon led a 16-8 win at Mt. Tabor with a 7-for-10, 98-yard performance. Chris Hauser was the defensive star of the game.

“He’s been the biggest surprise offensively,” Linville said of McClannon. “He’s just gotten better and better and better.”

The War Eagles set the tone in unlikely fashion when “The Freezer” picked off a pass and thundered to the Tabor 11 – the loudest two-yard return you’ll ever see. West deflected the pass straight up in the air and Matthews snatched it.

“We just went crazy,” Linville said. “The last one on the field you’d think would get an interception would be your nose guard.”

Davie finished 7-2 overall and 4-0 in the Central Piedmont Conference. The season overflowed with excitement, with eight games decided by eight points or less. Davie never allowed more than 22 points in a game.

“They’re a bunch of overachievers,” Linville said. “We’ve got 29 freshmen. Athletically, speed, size and strength, there were probably two teams we matched up with all year. But these guys fought their hearts out and found a way to get the job done.”

2001 Varsity Football

In 2001, Riddle was billed as a big star in the making for Davie’s varsity. “Billy right now is just a young puppy, but by the time he’s a senior I think you’ll be able to compare him with Zeke Earle,” defensive coordinator DeVore Holman said in 2001. “That’s saying a lot.”

Said outside linebackers coach Keith Whitaker: “(DB coach Jeff) Ward and them have seen Scott Cornatzer. Zeke was the best defensive back I’ve seen, and Riddle early on is right there at it. Our free safety’s got to be a stud.”

With Riddle joining a stellar senior class, the anticipation for the 2001 season was overwhelming. In the opener against visiting Alexander Central, the War Eagles stopped the talking and started the walking, throttling the Cougars 49-6 – the highest season-opening point total ever.

All Riddle did in his varsity debut was return a punt 42 yards to set up a TD and intercept a pass and return it 56 yards for a TD. Mike Mike Clement scored three TDs, Jon Goode scooped a fumble and scored, and Patrick Lowery collected 14 tackles.

“Oh man, it was awesome,” Riddle said of his varsity debut.

Said head coach Doug Illing: “Billy’s a gamer. He might be a sophomore by years, but he’s far beyond a sophomore by ability.”

In a 20-10 win at West Rowan, lightning-quick Clement ran for 131 yards and Adam Sain, Josh Stanley and Riddle smothered receiver Horatio Everhart, who had 4.3 speed.

“He had a lot of hype talked about him, but I think me, Stanley and Riddle stepped it up a little bit,” Sain said after Everhart was limited to four catches for 42 yards.

In a 38-0 road bashing of North Iredell, Clement, Doug Smith, Neil Rice and Brandon Gentry churned for 290 yards behind a swaggering offensive line (Chris Nichols, Dave Poplin, Justin Lanning, A.J. Scales, Adam “Beefcake” Barber and Trent Young). Ben Allred and Sain had interceptions.

“Our goal was to not let them have any first downs, and we pretty much showed ‘em,” Riddle said.

Even though Mooresville at Davie was a battle of unbeatens, the War Eagles pounded on the powerhouse Blue Devils, 31-13. They held Mooresville’s explosive flexbone to 125 yards as star runners Chris Winford and Lonnell Dunn were upstaged by Rice (117 yards). Mooresville sliced a 17-0 deficit to 17-7 and had momentum until Riddle helped shred its comeback plans late in the first half. He intercepted at midfield to set up the dagger, a reverse pass from Jason Hogue to Jacob Garner for 49 yards to the Mooresville 1. Lowery had 16 tackles, Kyle Gustafson had 12 and Goode had two sacks.

“It was an awesome game for us,” drop end Timmy Redmond said. “It let’s everybody know we’re ready. We ain’t no joke. We’re Bad Boys for life. This is one of the greatest defenses.”

After whipping through the first four opponents, the question was how would Davie handle crunch-time stress. It delivered with the game on the line in a 10-6 home win over Statesville.

A 10-0 lead was chopped to 10-6.  “We knew we were going to have to face adversity this year, and that was one of those times,” Nichols said.

Davie’s offense took possession with 6:46 remaining. Rice powered for five first downs as Davie clicked off 15 plays and drained the entire 6:46. QB Dan Sullivan completed 10 of 15 attempts.

In a collision of unbeatens at Freedom, the War Eagles came so close to tying it late and possibly staying perfect when the ball left kicker David Wooldridge’s foot from 41 yards out. The visiting side exhaled confidently and waited for officials to raise their arms, as they usually did after a Wooldridge field goal. Instead of signaling good for a 6-6 tie with 2:52 left, they waved no good. Freedom had survived 6-3.

“I looked at each of them in the eye and they were all hurting,” Illing said. “Two good defensive teams slugged each other out.”

In the CPC opener against visiting South Iredell, juke artist Hogue (7-110 receiving) set the tone, Lowery blocked a punt and Goode registered two sacks in a piece-of-cake win, 28-3.

“(Lowery) and (d-tackle Sam Stovall) are Division-I prospects,” South coach Kent Millsaps said. “(Hogue’s) a great receiver and (Sullivan’s) a great quarterback, but the offensive line is what makes them because he had plenty of time to pick and choose.”

After a 7-0 first half at West Forsyth, the avalanche that everyone expected came in the form of 17 points in three minutes as Davie recorded the largest win over West (38-8) since 1965. Josh Pfaff had a pick-6. Allred and Sain had INTs. Lowery had 15 tackles.

“We wanted to send a message because we felt like we should have won the game last year,” Rice said. “There were some little things they did over the summer, painting our rock and talking about we ain’t played nobody. So we hope they still feel like we ain’t played nobody.”

Davie raced to a 27-0 lead and coasted in a 27-14 home win over South Rowan. Allred made eye-catching plays on a sack and on his fourth INT, Riddle blocked a FG and Goode, Riddle and Pane had sacks. The Clement/Rice tandem produced 282 rushing yards.

The War Eagles rolled up four TDs in a span of 5:55 in a 50-10 obliteration at Reynolds, giving them sole possession of first place. Hogue had six catches for 110 yards. Redmond and Lowery had pick-6s. Lowery also scored on a fumble return. The defense had five picks in all, including two by Stanley and one by Allred. To this point, the defense had allowed six TDs in 10 games.

“Nobody – not yet at least – can stop Hogue,” Sullivan said.

Even though Davie was 9-1 when it hosted 9-1 North Davidson on the final night of the regular season, the season became a bitter what-if. North was coming off a 6-3 loss to a South Rowan team that was manhandled by Davie, but the Black Knights rallied to beat Davie 20-13 with 6,000-plus fans on hand.

Wooldridge drilled 31- and 45-yard FGs to provide 3-0 and 6-3 leads. On a third-and-8 option play, Sullivan pitched to Clement, who wiggled out of trouble and sped 80 yards to provide a 13-6 lead. But moments later, Davie cheers were transformed into moans as North star Sean Tuttle took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to tie it at 13. Sain bailed Davie out with an INT in the end zone, but North would take over at its 41 with 3:11 to go. Tuttle ripped off 23 yards on a toss sweep to settle the issue – the first TD allowed by Davie’s defense in eight quarters.

“We’re very disappointed,” Illing said.

The night would get worse for Davie. The North upset created a three-way tie at the top between Davie, North and S. Rowan and forced a drawing for the 1-2 playoff seeds. Nearly an hour removed from the game, S. Rowan coach Rick Vanhoy arrived at War Eagle Stadium for the molar-grinding draw. Vanhoy picked the lucky one. North’s Bill Butts plucked the two. Illing drew the stinking three, bringing a 9-2, 4-1 year to an abrupt end.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what we did tonight,” Butts said. “The bad part of this game is you have to go draw and somebody good is not going to practice Monday. That’s a shame. It’s not right, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”

“What’s going to really frustrate (Illing) and his team over the next couple of weeks are the what-ifs,” Vanhoy said. “How far would they have gone?”

Twenty-one Davie seniors departed with red-rimmed eyes. “We tried to console them and hold their heads up,” Illing said. “We’re the best team in this conference. There’s something missing in that 9-2. There’s a void and it’s a dang shame. It was just like someone punched you in the gut and smacked you in the face with a brick.”

Illing became the first Davie coach to win two conference titles. Ten War Eagles made all-CPC, led by Lowery (174 tackles, defensive player of the year, Shrine Bowl) and Wooldridge (43.2 punting average, 12 FGs, 42 touchbacks, Shrine Bowl). Poplin, Nichols, Hogue (35-520 receiving) and Clement (949 rushing yards) were named from Davie’s offense. Selected from the defense were linemen Stovall (57 tackles) and Pfaff (55 tackles), linebacker Gustafson (84 tackles) and strong safety Allred (45 tackles, five INTs).

Riddle did not make the team even though he was second behind Lowery with 99 tackles.