With the game deadlocked and a promising drive stalling in the middle of the third quarter, South Carroll needed a big play in a bad way. Junior wideout Drake Hebron came to the rescue.
The South Carroll receiver made an acrobatic catch to set up the decisive score for the Cavs in a 17-7 victory over Northeast on the road Friday.
With the score tied, South Carroll (2-0) faced a third and long from its own 48-yard line. Under pressure from the Northeast (0-2) defense, quarterback Ryan Barnard lofted a pass deep along the sideline toward Hebron. Hebron leapt into the air and adjusted his body around a pair of Eagles defenders to haul in the ball inside the 10.
“I ran a little hitch and the corner lost sight of me a little bit,” Hebron said, describing his big play. “Ryan rolled out and made a perfect throw. I just went up and got it. Great football play.”
Three plays later, Barnard found junior Antonio Rodrigues in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown that put the Cavs in front 14-7.
The dominant defensive line did the rest for South Carroll. Senior linebacker Brandon Athey led an aggressive attack for the defense that used the blitz to constantly pressure Northeast quarterback Tony Miller all game long.
“Just come out there and play hard,” Athey said of the team’s defensive strategy. “We just saw opportunities to use speed to our advantage. The [Eagles quarterback] is left-handed, so we wanted to put pressure on his backside. We just brought it every play.”
Early in the game, the Cavs got burned on a blitz. Miller got a throw off just in time and completed a pass over the middle to wide receiver Karson Carmickle. The junior found a seam up the middle and took the ball 50 yards to set up the Eagles in the red zone.
After a pair of runs moved the ball to the 12-yard line, Miller found Joshua Brewer in the back corner of the end zone to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
The Cavaliers responded immediately. Junior running back Caleb Blum got South Carroll going by gashing the Eagles’ defense with 10- and 7-yard runs to help move the ball into Northeast territory. Barnard hooked up with Hebron for 29 yards to set up the Cavs inside the five. A play later, Blum plunged in from a yard out to draw South Carroll even.
South Carroll head coach Mike Kraus said his team relied on its experienced upperclassmen to dig itself out of an early hole.
“We have some resilient kids,” Kraus said. “Our junior class has been here before so we knew that we could build on that character they have from the past.”
It was a disappointing effort for the Eagles in their home opener. A frustrated head coach Elwood Townsend lamented his team’s trouble protecting Miller after the game. The Eagles allowed four sacks in the second half and numerous tackles for loss.
“We played bad football tonight,” Townsend said. “We’ve got to block people. We’ve got to block and tackle — that’s the stuff that wins football games.”
Trailing 17-7, the Eagles tried to mount a late rally with just under four minutes to go. Miller connected with Brewer and Carmickle as Northeast took the ball inside the South Carroll 30 yard line.
The Cavs’ defense once again rose to the occasion, however, with Athey and Benjamin Simmens sacking the quarterback to set up a fourth and long. South Carroll closed the game out with a blitz that forced an incompletion and ran out the clock.
“Our concept is to bring more than they can block,” Kraus said. “When you do that, it puts you in a good situation. We didn’t do that as much as we wanted to, but we still made the plays and made [the quarterback] get the ball out of his hands fast. That played to our advantage.”
South Carroll 17, Northeast 7
NE – Tony Miller 12-yard pass to Joshua Brewer (Marquis Brown kick good) [7-0 NE]
SC – Caleb Blum 1-yard run (Ryan Barnard kick good) [7-7]
SC – Ryan Barnard 5-yard pass to Antonio Rodrigues (Barnard kick good) [14-7 SC]
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SC – Barnard kick good [17-7 SC]