Spartans end War Eagles’ season

Published 1:01 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

When Mt. Tabor’s football team pulled out a 35-34 win over Davie on Oct. 6, the War Eagles were kicking themselves as they left Winston-Salem. The narrow loss was partly a result of missed opportunities.

But after the visiting Spartans knocked out Davie in the first round of the 4-A playoffs on Friday, 48-26, Davie had to tip its hat to the sizzling Spartans. Tabor simply played better in every phase of the game.

Tabor was firing on all cylinders. Davie couldn’t stop running back Zion Thompson (26 carries, 187 yards). Davie couldn’t stop quarterback Lane Albright, who was an efficient 15 of 19 for 258 yards and four touchdowns. The War Eagles couldn’t keep stalwarts Shamarius Peterkin (five catches, 112 yards) and Ja-don Blair (3-64) from beating them deep.

“They have two Power 5 guys on the outside, and when you line them both up on (offense), it’s a tough matchup,” Davie coach Tim Devericks said. “You can stop the run and stop the run, and all of a sudden they get 60 yards on one play. It’s a tough outfit to handle.”

The 14th-seeded War Eagles finished 7-4. No. 19 Tabor improved to 7-4. The Spartans were lower than a pregnant ant when they were 2-4 after back-to-back losses to Reynolds (29-28) and East Forsyth (21-20). But they’ve played like a team possessed of late, winning their fifth straight. They scored TDs on seven of 11 possessions, they did not punt until the fourth quarter and they averaged 8.1 yards per play, compared to Davie’s 4.3.

Things started well for Davie. Albright and Thompson failed to make a clean handoff and Landon Barber recovered the fumble at the Tabor 44 early in the first quarter. Ty Miller’s 13-yard keeper and his 10-yard completion to Grey Deal keyed a nine-play TD drive that opened the scoring.

Unfortunately for Davie, it only took Tabor a minute and a half to answer. On fourth-and-2 from the Davie 47, coach Tiesuan Brown decided to go for it. Davie’s defense was looking for a run play by Thompson, leaving Peterkin in one-on-one coverage. Peterkin got behind the defender and hauled in a 47-yard TD that tied it 7-7.

Four minutes later, Albright went deep again, this time to the other big-time threat. Blair didn’t catch a pass in the first meeting, but his 49-yard score gave Tabor a 14-7 lead it would never relinquish.

“I think they played No. 4 (Blair) a little more on offense than they did the first time,” Devericks said. “That’s smart because you can’t just load up on one side and double cover No. 5 (Peterkin) because then you’re leaving that dude (Blair) one-on-one on an island.”

The War Eagles had to trade punches to have a chance in the fourth quarter, but they got behind the 8-ball when their 12-play drive bogged down at the Tabor 15. After Davie turned it over on downs, Tabor fed its workhorse runner five times during a 10-play, 85-yard drive. The beastly Thompson churned for 51 yards as Tabor moved in front 21-7.

On Tabor’s next possession, Thompson trucked a defender on a 28-yard scamper, and moments later it was 27-7.

“He probably doesn’t get the accolades like a lot of guys do because he gets dirty yards,” Devericks said of Thompson, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry. “Other guys break long ones, but he gets those 7-yard runs, then 4 and then 8. He just keeps adding them up and it takes a toll.”

To the War Eagles’ credit, they did not roll over. Miller was a modest 6 of 15 for 52 yards before catching fire on Davie’s last offensive series of the first half. He completed passes to Kez Stockton, Ethan Driver, Braddock Coleman and Deal. He went 7 of 7 for 77 yards as Davie marched 83 yards to climb back to 27-13 before halftime. (The extra point banged off the upright.)

“(Miller) puts it right in the bread basket, and they made some great catches,” said Brown, who talked to Miller after the game. “I said: ‘Son, I think you were one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen in a long time. I want to get your phone number and call you and I want you to work with my (13-year-old) son.’ I am dead serious about that. I think that young man is phenomenal. I hated it ended like this, but hats off to him.”

Davie needed a defensive stop to start the second half, but Albright made sure his Spartans stayed in command. He hit 3 of 3 passes for 55 yards to engineer a 64-yard drive that resulted in a 34-13 hole for Davie.

“I didn’t even have to say anything (at halftime),” Brown said. “The kids said: ‘It’s 0-0.’”

The War Eagles were on life support at this point, but they refused to die. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Davie running back Markel Summers scored to cap a 12-play, 62-yard drive.

Then Matty Warner, Gavin Reese and Elijah Chaffin made defensive plays as Tabor turned it over on downs at the Davie 36. Then Deal and Driver made highlight-reel catches. Deal climbed an invisible ladder to reel in a 19-yarder on third-and-11. Seven plays later, on fourth-and-9 from the Tabor 25, Miller lofted the ball to the right side of the end zone. Driver reached out as far as he could, squeezed the ball and kept a toe inbounds. The point-after kick was no good, but Davie was within one score, 34-26, with 1:28 left in the third.

These receivers had clutch genes all year.

“We knew they were going to come storming back,” Brown said. “That’s a good team. Coach does a great job with Davie. Each and every year, they bring it.”

“All year we kept playing and kept battling each play no matter what the score was,” Devericks said.

Barber and Zander Richardson raised hopes for a comeback by coming through on the next defensive series. Tabor punted. Davie punted less than a minute later, but Barber made another significant stop on a second-and-4 run by Thompson. Then Albright overthrew Peterkin on third-and-3.

“(Barber’s) improvement from last year to this year has been phenomenal,” Devericks said of the junior d-lineman. “Pound for pound, he’s one of the stronger guys around, and he’s learned to play with that leverage.”

The game’s critical moment was next. On fourth-and-3 from the Tabor 45, the Spartans faked the punt. The upman took the snap and ran an option. He pitched to punter Jaden Wallace. The War Eagles swarmed to the ball and appeared to bury Wallace a yard or so short of the marker when a game-changing play was exactly what they needed with 7:30 remaining.

But Tabor got a generous spot and got the first down by a couple of inches. Boos from the home crowd rained down on the officials.

“We battled our tails off,” Devericks said. “They got it by four inches.”

“We were playing to win,” Brown said. “I knew if we got that, it was going to break their back, and that’s exactly what happened. Everything we do, we practice a lot. I trusted Jaden and he stretched that thing out and got it.”

After the spot, a Tabor knockout punch felt inevitable. On third-and-6, Albright rolled left and took off, gaining 28 yards to the Davie 20. Tabor scored three plays later. At 41-26, that was the stake through Davie’s heart.

“They smelled the blood,” Brown said.

The Spartans got an add-on TD with 3:20 to go. They only faced third down eight times all game. They were balanced (261 rushing yards, 258 passing yards). They were just fantastically good.

When the clock hit zeroes, Devericks stressed the positives. Davie flipped from 4-7 last year to 7-4 this year – the most wins in four seasons.

“They did something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” he said. “I said: ‘Don’t let this sour ending put a damper on what you’ve accomplished this year.’”

Devericks had to say goodbye to some treasured seniors.

“I appreciate everything they’ve given this program every Friday night,” he said. “The things they do in the offseason, coming to workouts … if it’s easy, there would be a lot more kids in America that did it. Athletics teaches you a lot of things, and unfortunately there’s only one team in every division that’s not gonna have the feeling we have right now.”

Notes: Davie’s offensive line was banged up by game’s end. Senior right guard Kevin Lazaro injured his knee in the first quarter, walked off slowly and watched the rest of the game with crutches. Senior left tackle Evan Froelich walked off gingerly with 7:26 left in the third and did not return. … Davie lost in the first round for the third straight year. … Tabor will be a monster next year. Thompson, Albright, Peterkin and Blair are juniors. … Devericks (42-40 in eight years) passed Mike Carter (40-42 from 1981-88) this year and climbed to No. 3 in career wins at Davie. The top two: Doug Illing (127-66 from 1998-2012) and Jack Ward (61-51-9 from 1956-67). … Going into the Tabor game, freshman Chaffin (91), junior Connor Hood (87) and senior Eli Branham (71) were Davie’s top tacklers.