CONCORD – You’d never know by the final score of 56-35, but Northwest Cabarrus’ second-round 3AA state playoff victory over Northern Guilford Friday night was never certain until the last four minutes of the game.
That’s because the rate at which the visiting Nighthawks could score – proven by a four-minute, three-touchdown barrage in the third quarter – could never leave an opponent feeling secure.
Led by running back Tyrese Blake’s five touchdowns, quarterback Nick Wilds-Lawing’s 300-plus offensive yards and a couple of thrilling, unpredictable plays, the Trojans (seeded fifth in the West Region) advanced to the third round where they will play top-seeded Weddington on the road next week.
“It’s always exciting to be playing on Thanksgiving (weekend),” said Northwest Cabarrus coach Brandon Gentry. “That means you’re a pretty good football team. That means you’re an Elite Eight and you’re getting one step closer to playing for your ultimate goal of playing in the state championship.”
Northwest Cabarrus trailed by scores of 7-0 and 14-7 in the first half, but Blake scored three times in the second quarter as the Trojans built a 28-14 halftime lead.
Northern Guilford’s efficient, no-huddle passing game -- fueled by well-run receiving routes and short passes -- frustrated the Trojans. Six-foot-5-inch, 220-pound receiver Michael Frogge caught so many passes (eight overall) on crossing patterns over the middle that the Northwest Cabarrus defense should have started collecting rent from him.
The Nighthawks’ onside kick attempt to open the second half backfired, and Northwest added to its lead, 35-14, on Blake’s fourth touchdown, a 24-yard middle screen from Wilds-Lawing.
But Northern Guilford scored on seven plays, converted its next onside attempt and added a touchdown four plays later. After a Wilds-Lawing interception deep in Northwest Cabarrus territory, the Nighthawks scored again (three touchdowns in two minutes, 49 seconds) to knot the score at 35-35 with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
“Aw, man, it’s nuts,” said Gentry. “It’s kind of like watching a scary movie and the worst possible thing that can happen happens. The exact thing we talked about at halftime happened: onside kicks, them running a wheel route they scored on. And our kids just can’t let up in that situation. We have to learn to stay in the moment and make the plays we have to make.”
The Trojans’ recaptured the lead by completing a 10-play, 65-yard touchdown drive with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter and completely broke the Nighthawks’ offensive momentum by stopping them on a fourth-and-1 at the Northwest Cabarrus 21-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
On the next play, Wilds-Lawing darted 79 yards around right end to provide a mildly comfortable 49-35 lead.
Northern Guilford 8-5; Northwest Cabarrus 12-1
THE PLAY OF THE GAME
The teams traded touchdowns through 1½ quarters, and Northwest Cabarrus was anxious to break a 14-14 tie. The Trojans failed to complete a pass on third-and-6 at the Northern Guilford 40-yard line and lined up to punt on the next down.
On a designed fake, junior long snapper Ryan Armstrong popped the ball to up-man L.J. Currie, who made a quick move to his left. Currie had open field ahead and turned it into a 15-yard gain. Northern Guilford drew a penalty after the play was over, giving Northwest Cabarrus the ball at the 13-yard line.
On the next play, Blake took a handoff, shook off about three tackles near the line of scrimmage, and made a spin move near the goal line to score his third touchdown.
-- Quarterback Will Lenard had an amazing third quarter, completing all nine of his pass attempts for 118 yards and three touchdowns. For the game, he finished 26-of-36 for 301 yards but threw two deflating interceptions in the fourth quarter.
-- Frogge, who has committed to play at Wake Forest, had an obvious size advantage over most Trojan defenders. He finished with 88 yards and a touchdown.
-- Linebacker Tyler Anderson led the defense with 10 tackles.
-- Wilds-Lawing ran for 168 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and passed for 160 yards and two scores.
-- Blake covered 117 yards on 19 carries and caught two passes for 42 yards to add to his five scores.
-- Currie and fellow linebacker Caden Parker had fourth-quarter interceptions.
-- Despite one PAT attempt failing because of a botched snap/hold, placekicker Ezekial Senegal made seven extra points and also consistently booted his kickoffs inside the 5-yard line.
-- End zone-to-end zone, the grass between the hash marks at Trojan Stadium was scraped charcoal gray -- the type of look you sometimes see in late November on a field that has been battered by hosting a couple of extra playoff games.
-- Northern Guilford running backs Nyles Mosley and Jordan McInnis each had their first 100-yard rushing games against Cox Mill in last week’s first-round playoff game. However, Northwest Cabarrus held the Nighthawks’ rushing game to 56 yards on 25 carries.
-- Playing safety, Wilds-Lawing made three tackles on Northern Guilford’s opening possession, which ended in a touchdown. It had to be an unsettling feeling for Trojans fans, seeing their star quarterback playing such a key role defensively in the game’s first few minutes.
Northern Guilford 7 7 21 0 -- 35
Northwest Cabarrus 0 28 13 15 --56
NG – Jordan McInnis 15 run (Slater Ward kick)
NW – Tyrese Blake 3 run (Ezekial Senegal kick)
NG – Rashawn Pleasant 3 run (Ward kick)
NW – Blake 13 run (Senegal kick)]
NW – Blake 13 run (Senegal kick)
NW – Cam Saunders 12 pass from Nick Wilds-Lawing (Senegal kick)
NW – Blake 24 pass from Wilds-Lawing (Senegal kick)
NG – Michael Frogge 7 pass from Will Lenard (Ward kick)
NG – Chuck Conaway 19 pass from Lenard (Ward kick)
NG – Pleasant 8 pass from Lenard (Ward kick)
NW – Wilds-Lawing 7 run (kick failed)
NW – Wilds-Lawing 79 run (Marquan Williams pass from Wilds-Lawing)
NW – Blake 1 run (Senegal kick)