Riddle had 117 tackes as a soph in ’02

Published 11:00 am Monday, November 23, 2020

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

Since Billy Riddle was the second-leading tackler as a sophomore on one of the finest defenses ever in 2001, we know he was on his way to becoming a Davie football legend.

But how was he on the Davie wrestling mat? Glad you asked.

Riddle barely flinched as a varsity freshman for the War Eagles of Buddy Lowery. On a 2000-01 wrestling team that went 24-4 and reached the state dual team quarterfinals, Riddle tied for fifth in wins with a 34-12 record. The only ones ahead of him were Patrick Lowery (50-1), Josh Stanley (43-9), Jordan Kahrs (40-9), Adam Sain (36-12) and Jacob Garner (34-14).

Riddle went 25-13 in 2001-02, when Davie went 32-3, won the conference championship and placed fifth in the state individual tournament.

He did not wrestle as a junior, maybe because football season lasted three playoff rounds and spilled over into the beginning of wrestling. But he returned to the mat as a senior and did so in a big way, going 31-8 at 189 and qualifying for the state tournament. He helped Davie go 27-3, win the CPC title while outscoring league rivals by 53 on average, reach the state dual team quarterfinals and place sixth in the state individual tournament.

Add it up and Riddle went 90-33 in three years. Those Buddy Lowery squads went 83-10 and captured four Central Piedmont Conference crowns (two regular seasons, two tournaments).

But it was football that truly captured Riddle’s heart. In the summer before his junior season in 2002, Riddle, who brought a mixture of freight train and lightning bolt from his safety position, made quite an impression at a UNC combine.

Said secondary coach Jeff Ward in 2002: “He’s a complete football player. He went down to Carolina, ran a 4.48 40 and they were like: ‘Where in the (heck) did this kid come from?’ He’s got that little something extra that’s special. He’s got some of the stuff you can’t coach.”

Said head coach Doug Illing: “He’ll knock your head off.”

For the first 10 weeks in 2002, the season alternated hope and disappointment, resulting in records of 4-6 overall and 2-2 in the CPC. But in the final regular-season game at North Davidson, the sophomore-heavy War Eagles pulled off a storybook win over the 8-2 Black Knights. They turned six turnovers into 23 points, weathered 462 passing yards from Daniel Light and 292 receiving yards from Chris Noble and somehow managed to win 26-24.

Because quarterback Andrew McClannon picked this moment to have a remarkable breakout, because sophomore Dewayne Collins joined the off-the-bench QB as an unlikely hero, Davie forced a three-way tie for second.

“We kind of came into the game big-headed and it hurt us,” Light said. “We overlooked them because we thought we would be able to beat them with no trouble.”

Davie shook the North monkey off its back (North had won the previous four meetings) and West Forsyth (10-1, 5-0 CPC) beat Reynolds to force the tie for second between Davie, North and Reynolds. Then in a drawing to determine the two, three and four seeds, assistant coach Barry Whitlock plucked the two to give Davie home-field advantage in the first round.

“It’s about time we beat those suckers,” Illing said. “We stood toe-to-toe like a heavyweight bout and slugged it out. It was a special moment and a sweet victory.”

Sophomore QB/tailback James “Cooter” Arnold rolled right looking for a receiver, reversed direction all the way across the field and gained 20 yards. After McClannon hit a streaking Brian Hunter for 38 yards, Arnold completed an 18-yard rainbow to Larry Hudson for a 7-0 lead.

Light and Noble were the marquee players – Noble used his 6-5 frame to torch Davie with nine catches – but McClannon and Hunter stole the show. With Davie’s running game shut down, McClannon went 9 of 14 for 148 yards – 50 more yards than he had through 10 games. He pump faked and found Hudson, who beat Noble over the middle and caught a deflection off a linebacker’s fingers. The 33-yard score gave Davie a 14-10 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, freshman cornerback Raeshon McNeil deflected a long pass, only to watch Noble grab it and gallop 77 yards to put North in front 17-14.

Hunter (5-133 receiving) fielded a 48-yard punt and returned it 44 yards to set up a game-tying field goal by Kevin Winters. Then a North fumble resulted in a short TD run by Arnold. Hunter hauled in a 30-yard spiral from McClannon at the North 16, and another Winters field goal provided a 26-17 cushion.

McClannon: “(Hunter and Hudson) made me look good, and we couldn’t do it without the offensive line (Justin Lanning, Zach Jakob, Justin Norsworthy, Matt Markland and Trent Young and tight ends Ted Randolph and Cody Stephens).”

Illing: “From the start of the year, you would have never guessed (McClannon) would lead this team to victory against North Davidson in the last (regular-season) game.”

The Black Knights had 506 total yards to Davie’s 293. They rolled into Davie territory on 10 of 16 possessions, only punted twice (Winters trotted out for eight punts) and converted 9 of 17 third and fourth downs. But Davie’s defense showed the guts of a burglar. Each time the game seemed to be slipping away, a courageous defender would come to the rescue. When the Knights reached the Davie 5 with Davie leading 7-0, Riddle and Derek Cornatzer forced a field goal. Collins blocked a 34-yard field goal. Collins mashed Light on an option play, Brandon Pane recovered the fumble and Davie scored three plays later for a 14-10 lead. With Davie clinging to a 23-17 lead, Light went to Noble – but Gareth White picked it off. McNeil intercepted with two minutes left to all but seal it.

Outside linebacker Timmy Redmond: “Dewayne played a heckuva game, and Raeshon’s first interception came at the right time.”

Illing: “Our kids just found a way to make plays and get takeaways.”

Three days after enduring the death of his grandmother (Lettie Brown) and mere hours after grieving at her funeral, sophomore running back Justin Brown ran for 131 yards, scored three TDs and sparked a 36-14 first-round win over McDowell.

While Brown ran through the Titans to match his career high in rushing yards, Arnold ran around them for 116 yards as Davie improved to 6-6 with its first back-to-back wins of the season.

On a bitterly cold night in Greensboro in the second round, Davie put on a show that defied description.

Arnold and Brown combined for 321 rushing yards, Hunter set the season record for receiving yards and the War Eagles produced a first-quarter explosion for the ages to send them to 36-20 victory over Page. They reached the quarterfinals for the second time ever and climbed above .500 (7-6) for the first time all season.

Illing: “Man, I was shocked. I was really shocked to see us come out and execute like that on both sides of the ball. Boy, we came to play.”

The War Eagles were so dominant out of the gate that they outgained Page 205-7 in a first quarter that featured 114 rushing yards from Arnold.

On the fourth play of the game, Hunter energized Davie with a third-and-10 reception. He caught McClannon’s floater at the Page 15 and bolted to the end zone for a 37-yard score. On Davie’s second series, McClannon found Hunter down the left sideline for 27 yards and Arnold scored on the next play.

Hunter finished with 103 receiving yards, giving the first-year Davie player 664 on the year. (Thadd Johnson had held the record of 657 from 1999.)

Illing: “If he’d been out here since his freshman year, he would have been an all-state receiver.”

Hunter was only the beginning of Page’s troubles. Arnold ran for 159 yards on 20 carries in the first half alone and scored three TDs in a span of 7:29 as Davie racked up a 29-0 lead in 12 minutes, five seconds. When Arnold (24-190 rushing) wasn’t zipping around the corner, Brown (21-131) was pounding between the tackles.

Lanning: “(Coach Chad) Groover had us pumped up. He said: ‘Just think of the Bahamas and don’t think of the cold weather.’”

The defenders who stifled Page during the 29-0 start were Riddle, Pane, Sam Stovall, Kevin Boger, D.J. Rice, Collins and Chris Hauser. Page’s 6-4, 202-pound quarterback completed his first pass with 5:05 left in the game, ending an 0-for-11 streak. McNeil had an INT for the third straight week.

In the quarterfinals in Asheville, Davie was ran over by a juggernaut. A.C. Reynolds (12-1) won 42-0 and went on to capture the 4A title for the second time in four years.

Illing: “We ran into a buzzsaw. They smashmouthed right down our throat.”

But the War Eagles, who rallied for the sixth non-losing season in seven years and the 10th seven-win season in 47 years, were playing on house money. The 7-7 season proved to be more than anyone could have expected with so many sophomores in the lineup.

Illing: “It’s exciting. We’ve got a lot of young kids that gained great experience and got a taste of the big atmosphere of the playoffs.”

For the second year in a row, Riddle was the No. 2 tackler. He delivered 117 – second to Rice’s 146 – despite missing two full games and virtually all of another with injuries. He was among seven War Eagles named to the All-CPC team. The others were left guard Norsworthy, QB/tailback Arnold, defensive tackle Stovall, linebacker Rice, cornerback White and punter Winters.