KANNAPOLIS — In the waning moments of Cream of Cabarrus third-ranked Central Cabarrus’ conference opener, the Vikings could have cared less about scoring against fourth-ranked A.L. Brown. By that time, it was only about keeping the Wonders from scoring.
But it was Central Cabarrus’ offense that was in position to carry out the task. Its ball-control mindset accomplished its goal — possessing the ball for more than 10 minutes of the fourth quarter — and preventing A.L. Brown from overcoming its game-long deficit.
The Vikings’ offense was only returning a favor similarly granted by its defense earlier in the game when its four takeaways (and another one by the special teams) became integral in Central Cabarrus building an insurmountable lead.
Friday’s role reversal between Central Cabarrus’ units proved to be for the common good. The Vikings held on for a 31-27 victory, their second straight conquest of the Wonders after losing the schools’ first 25 matchups.
“We talked all week about our defense making a play that was going to spark a victory for us,” said Central Cabarrus coach Kenneth McClamrock. “Early on, (interceptions by DeAndre Boykins, Kevin Clerge, and Khalil Ford) got the defense exactly that. They made plays when it mattered.”
What made Central Cabarrus’ five takeaways even more impressive was that the Vikings didn’t commit any turnovers themselves. Additionally, four of the turnovers Central Cabarrus (5-2 overall, 1-0 South Piedmont 3A Conference) forced either directly or indirectly led to 24 of the Vikings’ 31 points.
The first of those was Boykins’ interception deep in A.L. Brown (4-2, 0-1) territory on the second play of the game.
Like Central Cabarrus’ other two interceptions, it looked like Boykins knew where the pass was going before it left the A.L. Brown quarterback’s hand. It gave the Vikings the ball on the 10-yard line, and Boykins himself punched it in from 4 yards out two plays later for an early lead.
“My responsibility was to go to the (left) flat immediately,” said Boykins, a junior linebacker who is a major college recruit at multiple positions. “I saw the quarterback rolling out, and he threw it. I just had the break on it.”
Already sporting a 15-0 lead, Central Cabarrus’ next interception, provided by junior defensive back Clerge near midfield, led to a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Boykins completed a 42-yard drive with a 6-yard run in which he scooted half the width of the field to outrun the A.L. Brown defense to the right pylon.
Speaking of pile-ons, Central Cabarrus needed just another minute and 16 seconds to add another score. It looked like the next A.L. Brown pass was practically intended for Ford, a senior defensive back.
He corralled it into his chest at the Wonders’ 35-yard line and scampered down the right sideline. Ford side-stepped a tackler inside the 5 and stumbled over the goal line for a 28-0 Vikings lead.
“We were playing a cover 3,” said Ford. “I was reading. I saw the quarterback look at that receiver the whole time. I knew it was going to him. So I just read the route he was doing, and I just had to make the play.
“I was smiling the whole time (on the return). I’ve never been so excited. I knew I was about to score and celebrate with my team.”
Later in the second quarter, Austin Himes recovered a fumble on an A.L. Brown muffed punt return. It didn’t lead to any points, but it extended a Central Cabarrus possession that nearly expired the first half clock.
Late in the third quarter, junior defensive back Native Johnson recovered a misguided pitch on a Wonders reverse play and returned it to the A.L. Brown 12-yard line. Jaciel Garibo closed the Central Cabarrus scoring four plays later with a 23-yard field goal.
Meanwhile, the Wonders were mounting a comeback. Two long touchdown receptions by Jose Vargas and two longer scoring runs by Jakhiry Bennett brought A.L. Brown to within 31-27 midway through the fourth quarter.
But a nine-play possession and a 12-play drive — neither which yielded any points for Central Cabarrus — sandwiched a Wonders touchdown with 5:32 remaining and kept the ball away from A.L. Brown for most of the final period.
Causing so many fortuitous turnovers provides Central Cabarrus with more confidence heading into next week’s showdown at home with top-ranked Northwest Cabarrus. However, that’s one takeaway from Friday’s game whose outcome has yet to be determined.