Rally falls short; Davie headed to West Rowan on Friday

Published 1:39 pm Monday, August 21, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Davie’s football team could have called it a night when it was trailing 31-10 with 7:11 to go in the fourth quarter.

It didn’t.

The War Eagles scored two touchdowns in 3:03, and thanks to Braddock Coleman’s onside kick and recovery, they were in position to force overtime or steal it at the end.

Then came three incomplete passes in the final four plays and a reminder that life doesn’t always have neat and tidy outcomes like movies or novels.

The Blue Devils held on 31-24 in the Aug. 18 season opener at War Eagle Stadium.

“We talk about staying together no matter what happens, and keep playing and keep playing and keep playing,” Davie coach Tim Devericks said. “And they did.”

Davie’s offense came out sluggish and its defense absorbed some dents in the first 14 minutes. After both teams combined for six yards on the first three possessions of the game, Mooresville sophomore receiver Dominic Morin made the first big play, getting behind the secondary for 60 yards to the Davie 3. One play later, Mooresville had a 7-0 lead.

But Davie’s own sophomore receiver, Ethan Driver, delivered a spectacular performance in his first real varsity action. (He had cameo appearances as a freshman and three catches; he had eight receptions against Mooresville.) On Davie’s third offensive series, three Ty Miller passes to Driver accounted for 58 of 63 yards as Davie moved into field-goal range. Max McCall, a junior transfer from Lake Norman, has come out of nowhere to fill a huge void at kicker, and he converted a 26-yard try to get Davie on the board, 7-3.

McCall would also come through with three point-after kicks in as many tries. He moved to Davie County less than a month ago, “and I’ve been enjoying it ever since,” he said. “I saw they were missing a kicker, so I volunteered to do it. You know, I have a little bit of kicking experience from Lake Norman (on JV in 2022), but I want to keep improving.”

“Being 100 percent on extra points tonight was a huge thing,” Devericks said.

Morin torched Davie more than once in the first half. His 26-yard reception transported Mooresville into the red zone, and it had a 14-3 lead after an 11-play, 75-yard drive. About two minutes later, Morin hauled in a bomb for a 59-yard score.

The 21-3 margin with 10:16 left in the second quarter prompted groans from the large home crowd.

“That’s a really good team we played tonight that returned a lot of guys from last year,” Devericks said. “At the same time, we’ve got to realize we can be a really good team if we execute a little better early on.”

At this point, Morin had three catches for 145 yards, but things got a lot better for Davie’s defense. Morin would catch only one more pass the rest of the night. Davie held the Blue Devils to one touchdown on their last seven possessions. After they went ahead 21-3, they gained 93 yards on 25 rushes, a 3.7 average. Their two quarterbacks went 3 of 11 for 40 yards. On the their last seven possessions, they averaged 3.6 yards per play, and their longest run of the night was 17 yards.

Davie’s defense allowed at least 5 yards per carry each of the last four seasons, including 6 in 2022. In that respect, Davie’s defense over the last two-plus quarters was a breath of fresh air. Senior safety Eli Branham was the leader with 11 tackles.

“From last year to this year, it was phenomenal improvement,” Devericks said. “But as coach Nic (Blaine Nicholson) told them, we’re not looking for moral victories. He’s going to challenge them, and those guys want to be challenged.”

After failing to score on five of its first six possessions, Davie’s offense came alive in the last 2:27 of the first half. Miller flipped a little pass to Coleman to convert a third-and-6 situation. On fourth-and-4 from the Mooresville 37, Miller found Grey Deal for 18 yards. On the next play, Miller hit Driver for 17. Miller scored from the 2 with only two seconds on the clock as Davie cut the halftime margin to 21-10.

In the third quarter, though, the Blue Devils regained control by driving 51 yards for a touchdown and hitting a 34-yard field goal. With 7:11 to play, the score was 31-10 and Davie looked like roadkill.

An experienced Mooresville defense was having its way with Miller, running back Markel Summers and the Davie offense. Mooresville returned nine defensive starters from a 10-2 team in 2022, including all four linebackers and all four DBs.

“These guys have been in big games,” Mooresville coach Joe Nixon told the Mooresville Tribune in preseason. “They know what it’s like to win a conference championship. They got to the second round of the playoffs. Having that valuable experience as Friday night players, hopefully that helps propel us into taking the next step.”

But in a remarkable turn of events, the War Eagles rose from the dead. A sack put Davie in a third-and-17 hole, but Miller hooked up with Carter Helton for 19 yards, and a 15-yard penalty on Mooresville was tacked on. On fourth-and-9 from the Mooresville 27, Miller connected in the end zone with Evan York. The 11-play, 65-yard drive only burned 3:07 off the clock, and it was 31-17 with 4:04 remaining.

Coleman tried an onside kick. He got the big bounce that kickers shoot for, but Mooresville recovered it. Davie had to have a quick stop, and that’s exactly what happened. Outside linebacker Zander Richardson had a minus-3 tackle, Mooresville went 3-and-out and then got off a bad punt (19 yards) as Davie took over at its 35.

On third-and-10, a Miller pass to Driver was good for 14 yards. On fourth-and-inches, offensive coordinator Matt Gould wrong-footed the defense by calling a pass, and Miller flipped it to Driver for 2 yards. Miller and Helton connected for 17. A Driver touchdown was called back by a penalty, but on the next play, Driver caught a 28-yarder in the back of the end zone. Of Miller’s five completions on the 11-play drive, four went to Driver. Davie roared 65 yards in less than two minutes and McCall’s PAT made it 31-24 with 1:01 left.

It was a scrapbook kind of performance for Driver, who turned eight catches into 125 yards.

“I just wanted to do the best I could,” said the low-key Driver, who seems content to let his play do the talking. “The team relied on me, I rely on them and that helped me succeed.”

“We saw that coming for Ethan,” Devericks said. “He’s put in the work. He’s a great athlete and he’s hit a little growth spurt, too. So I think it’s just all come together for him. He competes all the time. He wants to do his very best on every play. That’s how you get better and that’s how you make people around you better.”

Again, it was onside kick time. Not only did Coleman execute the kick, he jumped on it at the Mooresville 49 at 0:56.

“That was a phenomenal play,” Devericks said.

Miller threw incomplete to Driver on first down, but Mooresville committed pass interference against Coleman on second down. Davie had a fresh set of downs at the Mooresville 34.

But it wasn’t to be. While Davie didn’t have enough oomph to score for a third time in the last 4:04 – it only gained 6 yards over the last four plays – the comeback was something to behold as Davie ran 27 of the last 30 offensive snaps.

“We can be a really good team,” Devericks said. “It’s just getting these young men to believe that. That’s the main thing we’re fighting right now.”

Notes: It wasn’t a vintage performance by Davie’s top offensive weapons. Miller passed for 243 yards, but he needed 47 throws to do it. Summers, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022, was held to 26 yards. Give credit to a splendid Mooresville defense. … The game marked the anticipated high school debut for freshman linebacker Elijah Chaffin, who responded with eight tackles, second only to Branham’s 11. “He’s got a demeanor like Ethan Driver. You’re not going to rattle Elijah,” Devericks said. “He’s going to be even keel. He’s extremely intelligent in the football realm, and I’m sure he is in the classroom, too. Football-wise, he’s only got to be told one time.” … Junior safety Connor Hood and junior linebacker Archer Richardson had six tackles each. … The second of three nonconference games is Friday night at West Rowan at 7. The Falcons are coming off a 38-27 loss to Kannapolis. They led by scores of 13-3, 19-10 and 27-24 before fading in the fourth. … Last year West scored on a 42-yard pass with 2:18 remaining to edge Davie 35-34 in a barnburner that featured five lead changes, 961 yards of offense and 10 TDs. … Davie leads the W. Rowan series 31-21-1.