Late TD, turnover propel N-C to Homecoming win
A touchdown pass from Kevin Cline to Sam Avis with 4:27 left in the third quarter ended up being the game-winning score, helping Newton-Conover pick up a Homecoming victory against East Burke on Friday at Gurley Stadium.
"That was just a physically tough football game," said N-C coach Brint Russell. "I'm proud of our kid's effort."
With East Burke (4-3, 2-1) driving to win the game in the fourth quarter, the Red Devils sealed the game late on a turnover when Avis forced East Burke wide receiver Bradley Teague to fumble after a catch.
N-C defensive back Jaquell Stewart recovered the loose ball, and the Red Devils ran out the remaining time to come away with their second CVAC win in a row and second of the season.
Both teams were left scoreless after a quick first half that lasted only 38 minutes. Newton-Conover and East Burke each had one possession in the first and second quarter.
The Red Devils (4-3, 2-1) took their opening drive down to the Cavalier one-yard line, but turned the ball over after going for the score on fourth and goal.
Russell defended his decision to go for the six points instead of kicking a field goal.
"Any time we are inside the 10-yard line or we have one yard to go, I have complete and utter faith in our offense that we are going to get a yard," he said. "We pride ourselves on being able to get a yard. Any time we are third and one or fourth and one, I'm never going to second guess those decisions. If we are on the 10-yard line or even the 30-yard line and have fourth down and one, we're going to go for it because we believe our offense can get a yard."
East Burke nearly took the ensuing possession 99 yards for the score, but a fumble deep in Newton-Conover territory by Cavs quarterback Jacob Young was recovered by the Red Devils' Telijah Gibbs.
The offensive stalemate continued until the halftime buzzer sounded.
Russell said the 0-0 score at the break caught he and his team off guard.
"That's the first time we've went into halftime with a zero," he said. "When you are at a Newton-Conover game and you see a zero on the scoreboard, it is a pretty amazing feat. They did a great job defensively. We're not used to seeing zeros on the scoreboard. We are used to seeing 30-plus points a game."
Despite rushing for 134 yards in the first half, the Cavaliers opened the second half with their passing attack in a big way.
Fifty-nine seconds into the third quarter, Young made up for his earlier blunder with a 63-yard rainbow pass to receiver Chucky Ritchie for a touchdown.
After the missed extra point, East Burke led 6-0.
Newton-Conover followed suit with a score of their own, taking the ball 72 yards in 15 plays. Cline found Avis on a 17-yard strike to cap the drive, and Chandler Johnson's extra point gave N-C a 7-6 lead.
Avis, who couldn't make a touchdown grab from Cline one play prior, said he was glad he had another chance to help his team out.
"I was thankful to my coaches for calling the same play again and giving me a second chance to make a play," Avis said. "Kevin did a really great job of throwing the ball in a way that only I could get to it. I was just really thankful when I caught it."
Cline completed 10-of-14 passes in the game for 129 yards and also rushed 11 times for 27 yards.
He said battling against a tough East Burke defensive line was challenging at times, but his teammates helped him make that task easier.
"When (East Burke's) line would break through, I would just try to look for a gap, get out in space and keep my eyes down field," Cline said. "Our receivers did a great job of seeing my scrambling and coming back to an open area in the field. I could just get the ball to them, and they could run."
The Cavaliers had three chances to take the lead late in the contest, including another missed fourth and goal attempt by the Red Devils at the East Burke three-yard line.
However, the Red Devils' defense played with a new vigor and didn't allow an opposing score.
The touchdown pass on offense is what Russell believes sparked Newton-Conover defensively.
"I think we fed off of that," he said. "The next series, we came out, stuffed them and got the ball in really good field position. We fed off that touchdown the entire quarter."
After recording long runs of 37, 18, 12 and 11 in the first half by running backs Robbie McGee and Larry Clark, East Burke's longest run of the second half was seven yards.
McGee finished with 109 yards on 18 carries, while Clark rushed 14 times for 50 yards.
Russell said no changes were made in scheme at halftime, but his team's changed attitude in the second half is what led to its success.
"We talked (at halftime) to our kids about toughening up," he said. "We talked to our kids about playing more physical and playing with a greater effort and a greater intensity. In the second half, they answered that call."
Teague's late fumble allowed Newton-Conover to milk most of the clock, and a final first down run by fullback Matt Coulter helped N-C run out the remaining time.
Trying for their third conference win in a row, the Red Devils travel to Claremont next Friday to take on the Bunker Hill Bears (4-3, 0-3).
Russell said his squad will need to take a much different approach than it did during this past week.
"It was an ugly win, but we've got to regroup," Russell said. "Like I told the kids, we did not have a great week of practice. It was Homecoming, and there were a million distractions. We had a hard time focusing on East Burke. It showed this week. It's my job to keep us focused on the game at hand. We've got to come back and get refocused next week against Bunker Hill. We're going to take a lot of cues from this football game."