Davie slays a dragon with win over East Forsyth

Published 3:53 pm Monday, September 25, 2023

By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Davie’s football team didn’t win the state championship when it pulled an all-time stunner on Friday against visiting East Forsyth. It just felt that way.

Despite a 3-1 start, there were questions about how serious a contender the War Eagles could be in the Central Piedmont Conference. They finished fourth, fifth and fifth the past three seasons, and their earlier victims (West Rowan, North Davidson and Reynolds) are a combined 5-10. After a gargantuan 41-28 win over a traditional power, Davie coach Tim Devericks and his boys have validation. After Davie jumped out of the bushes and surprised everyone, those questions regarding its CPC chances have been wadded up and tossed in yonder trash can. Feisty Davie showed it’s as tough as any team in the league.

“It doesn’t feel real because we’ve always been doubted and they’ve always put up a bunch of points on us,” senior defensive end Trey’von Doulin said. “But we showed it’s different this time.”

This one will go down in history because East was 4-0, it has finished first each of the past three seasons and it had rolled over, around and through Davie the past seven meetings. East beat Davie by an average score of 47-19 from 2017-22 and the score prediction for Friday by Massey Ratings was 42-14 East. Massey had East ranked fifth in the state, Davie 45th. MaxPreps.com had East ranked ninth among all classifications, Davie 48th. East was 27-3 over three seasons; Davie was 13-13 since the fall of 2021.

It’s hard to put into words just how unbelievable this performance was.

“It’s emotional because there’s not a lot of credit given to these guys,” Devericks said. “It’s been building towards this. All it takes is a spark. Somebody asked me earlier in the week: What’s the difference (this year)? To me the difference is there’s players leading this team, and when that starts to happen, you’ve got something good cooking.”

The War Eagles (4-1, 2-0 CPC) overrode a 21-12 deficit by ripping off 21 unanswered points in a span of 14:52. How did they do it?

• Running back Markel Summers was a battering ram as he churned 40 times for 152 yards and four touchdowns – not to mention 95 receiving yards.

• Quarterback Ty Miller put on a clinic on how to handle constant blitzing. He was Houdini in the pocket as he threw for 321 yards and three TDs.

• Senior receiver Grey Deal (six catches, 102 yards) enjoyed an outrageous breakthrough in his first varsity start.

• Senior Junior Romero, a seldom-used backup running back, came out of nowhere to score the go-ahead TD in the third quarter.

• This win changed the whole perception of the Davie defense. East quarterback Bryce Baker is a major talent, and he’s surrounded by Rolls-Royces in the backfield and out wide. But the Davie D, led by safety Connor Hood’s 11 tackles and cornerback Gavin Reese’s four pass breakups, was up for the challenge.

• And then there’s the OL and DL. After years of succumbing to East’s awesomeness in the trenches, Davie’s interior grunts proved themselves.

“That’s the thing – we hadn’t been able to run the ball on East Forsyth in a long time,” Devericks said. “So I’m super proud of the guys up front and Markel for making great cuts and great reads. Where we’ve lost in the past was not being able to win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That’s why I challenged them in practice all week to challenge each other in practice. And they did that.”

“I knew from practice, with the intensity we brought this week, that something was going to change from last year,” Summers said. “Everyone was locked in.”

Defensive coordinator Blaine Nicholson couldn’t have drawn up the game’s first series any better. East’s Brandon Sutton, Laurane Riggs and Jaylin Murry carried the ball and totaled two yards on three running plays. Davie sent a message right there.

“They thought they could do whatever they wanted, but we showed them,” Doulin said.

East punted and the War Eagles went on a dominating 10-play, 77-yard drive in 2:34. Miller went 4 for 4 for 59 yards in that sequence, including two hookups with Deal, who came through with the game of his life. His stutter-step move toppled a defender as he gained 31 yards to the East 6. Summers scored two plays later for a 6-0 lead.

“I’m just trying to get shifty,” Deal said. “It’s going to take more than one to bring me down.”

East immediately answered with a 54-yard drive to grab a 7-6 lead, and then Davie was hit with adversity. Miller tried a bubble screen to Leon Bradshaw, who dropped the ball. East jumped on it. Two officials discussed the play, ruled it a lateral and gave East the ball at the Davie 16. Devericks was irate, so the officials huddled to talk it over. They stuck with the call and an even more irate Devericks called timeout so he could let the officials have it.

Even though East (4-1, 1-1) got possession at the Davie 16, the Davie defense didn’t get rattled. East committed one of its 16 penalties and Hood, Reese and Eli Branham broke up three straight passes to get a turnover on downs.

“It was very controversial, but our guys bowed their neck,” Devericks said.

Baker, a transfer from Walkertown, is a 6-3, 185-pound junior who has committed to UNC. His main targets are 6-2 Jai Richburg (7 catches, 149 yards) and 6-3 Joshua Alston (5-63). Watching Reese, Branham, Hood, Braxton Bowling, Bradshaw and Elliott Gould compete against those towering athletes and hold Baker to 16 completions in 30 attempts was something to see.

“Gavin, man, he made so many plays,” Devericks said. “Connor made plays. (Pass breakups) are huge for momentum. Eli made a great play on the running back out of the backfield. I heard coach Bum (Todd Bumgarner) say, ‘We’ve only said it 72,000 times to watch the back out of the backfield,’ and we got to him.”

Davie drove from its 19 to the East 18, only to turn it over on downs. But East shanked a punt – it traveled one yard – and the War Eagles set up shop at the East 35. They took advantage of the short field, with Bradshaw making a 14-yard catch on third-and-11 and Miller taking off and lowering his head for a 13-yard pickup. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, the total-package Miller perfectly executed a fake to Summers and hit Deal in the end zone.

Davie’s 12-7 lead, though, was short-lived. Baker hit Richburg on a post route. He broke a tackle and sprinted 79 yards as East regained the lead, 14-12. Less than two minutes later, Sutton, a transfer from Glenn who ran for 90 yards, broke three tackles during a 25-yard TD run that put Davie in the 21-12 hole with 6:04 left in the first half. At the 3:36 mark, East’s Nigel Gay made a terrific play to intercept Miller at the East 44.

This is when Davie could have folded. But this is when Davie proved its defensive mettle. Doulin spilled a ball carrier near the line of scrimmage, linebacker Archer Richardson sacked Baker and East had to punt.

“We put pressure in (Baker’s) face and didn’t let him set up,” Devericks said. “The best pass defense is pressure up front and not letting him run all the way out to the edge. Maybe he wasn’t running for his life, but we moved him off his spot and that affects timing and everything.”

Despite being backed up at its 14 with only 1:37 left in the half, Davie’s offense revved its engine. Miller escaped the blitz and rumbled for 18 yards. Two plays later, he flipped a screen to Summers, who ran like a deer through the forest, a 49-yard play to the East 3. Summers scored from there to cap an 86-yard charge in 54 seconds, and Deal caught a two-point pass.

The War Eagles were down 21-20 at halftime and they knew they were onto something.

“They had us dead to rights in the backfield,” Devericks said. “They had too many coming and we didn’t have enough to block them. (But Miller) pulled a Chris Reynolds move, pulled a Houdini, and made a huge run for a first down.

“(The screen pass to Summers) flashed me back to Mooresville. We had the same play. We had two guys to block one and we didn’t get it done. We got that blocked this time and Markel made a good cut.”

Davie got the ball to start the second half, and after Miller tucked the ball and scampered for 17 yards, Romero contributed in a way nobody could have seen coming. He entered the fray with Davie facing third-and-3 at the East 19 because Summers needed a breather.

East dialed up another blitz. Miller bought time by spinning left. Romero was running a wheel route and Miller lofted a high-arcing pass down the left sideline to the wide-open Romero, who caught it in stride as Davie snatched the lead at 26-21. It was the 5-8 senior’s first varsity catch and first varsity TD. Even though the converted DB has played a bit part for two years, he never complains – he just keeps plugging away.

“He’s a senior who has moved positions and he doesn’t say a thing,” Devericks said. “He just comes and works his tail off. That’s why you saw the sideline erupt because of a guy like that who gives it his all.”

“I needed a break,” Summers said. “He’s been wanting to get in. It’s his first year at running back. He’s a senior and I loved it for him. He’s my boy.”

“Markel’s my brother and I’ve got to have his back,” Romero said. “I was confident; I wasn’t scared. It was a perfect pass. I just didn’t know it was going to be towards me. My first touchdown. It was a good moment to have.”

East’s offense could not respond from the Romero gut punch. Matty Warner stuffed Sutton in the backfield and Hood cut down Murry on the edge for no gain. On fourth-and-3 from the Davie 40, Baker threw incomplete.

“We rushed (Baker) and he got uncomfortable,” said Doulin, who hunkered down in the trenches with Landon Barber, Warner, Brandon Wood, Grayson Cayton and Nathaniel Jordan. “I’ll give it to the coaches because they knew where to put us for the run. We watched film and knew how to get into gaps and stop them.”

Now Davie was smelling blood. On third-and-2, Miller found Deal to move the chains. On the next play, East was flagged for pass interference against Deal. Summers sliced 17 yards to the end zone, and then Davie successfully faked the extra point. Miller, the holder, rolled around right end to bump Davie’s lead to 34-21.

Summers, Miller, Romero, Deal and several others will have their names attached to this game for the rest of their lives.

“(Deal) stepped up at the biggest moments,” Miller said. “I have so much love for that kid because he’s been working all four years, he finally gets playing time his senior year and he shows out.”

“This is my first game starting,” Deal said. “I had to show out and I’m pretty sure I did. They came into our nest and we protect our nest. We’re coming for everything now.”

“(Deal’s) stepped up this year,” Summers said. “His competition catches were insane.”

Sutton’s 3-yard run converted a fourth-and-3 situation, but the Davie defense came up with a backbreaking stop later in the series. Senior outside linebacker Zander Richardson upended Sutton for a 7-yard loss to put East in a third-and-15 dilemma at the Davie 19.

“Even if Zander didn’t make the tackle, he’s making the play by turning it back in and not giving them downhill-edge runs,” Devericks said.

On fourth-and-6 from the Davie 10, Baker threw to the right flat. Freshman linebacker Elijah Chaffin rose to the moment, popping the receiver when the ball arrived and dislodging it. Incomplete.

“Huge play,” Devericks said.

Davie’s offense wasn’t done. Deal used a spin move to gain 28 yards. An East defender was glued to Evan York, but Miller dropped the long pass in the bucket and York squeezed it for 33 yards to the East 25.

“Evan didn’t sit over there and pout because Grey took some (of his) reps,” Devericks said. “When his number was called, he was ready to go make a play.”

Two plays later, offensive coordinator Matt Gould ordered the wheel route again. Summers hauled it in for a 23-yard TD to make it 41-21 with 9:57 remaining.

“He puts on a show every time,” Miller said. “It doesn’t look like anything can stop him.”

It was do-or-die time for East. Baker threw deep to JP Gilcrest, but Hood was there. Baker tried a fade to Alston, but Reese wasn’t having it. Baker looked to Gilcrest, but Bowling had it covered up. A fourth-and-6 pass to Sutton gained one yard as Hood and Z. Richardson gang tackled the back.

Summers barreled eight more times for hard inside yards to salt it away. When the horn sounded, the Davie Crazies swarmed the field to celebrate the slaying of a dragon.

“They played against some great receivers and they strapped them up,” Miller said of the secondary.

“This gives us all the motivation,” Deal said. “We just beat the top team. Now we’ve got a bounty on our head, and now we’ve got to back it up.”

Notes: Davie has a four-game winning streak. Its only loss was to 5-0 Mooresville. … This was Davie’s first win over East since 35-28 in 1988. The teams did not meet from 1989-2016. … East allowed the most points in 46 games. It’s the most since a 41-38 loss to West Forsyth in 2019. … East went 1 for 5 on fourth-down tries. … Deal had 10 catches for 136 yards across two seasons before this breakout night. … Summers had the most carries in 30 games, dating to Tate Carney’s 47 rushes in a 49-40 win over Reagan in March 2021. … Miller threw three TDs in a game for the seventh time in two years. … Davie converted 11 of 15 third downs. … Seven of Hood’s 11 tackles were solos. A. Richardson and Chaffin had eight stops each and Warner seven. … Devericks beamed at the o-line (Evan Froelich, Evan Copeland, Ryder Strickland, Kevin Lazaro and Jalen Alexander). “Markel is only as good as we are up front, and Ty is only as good as we are up front,” he said. “It’s got to be the whole unit working together.” … Davie is heading into a high-intensity matchup Friday at Reagan at 7. Never mind the Raiders’ 1-4 (1-1) record. They’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the state and they’re considered a legitimate CPC contender. … Davie leads the series 8-6, but Reagan has won the past two (52-14 in 2021 and 41-21 in 2022).