South Iredell turned five Newton-Conover turnovers into 20 points and a Catawba Valley Athletic Conference championship as the Vikings conquered the Red Devils 32-28.
“Five turnovers. That’s about all I can tell you,” said Newton-Conover coach Nick Bazzle. “You can’t turn the ball over like that. It was too sloppy a game. I knew coming in that we just can’t make mistakes, and we did, and it cost us.”
It cost Newton-Conover a perfect season and possibly cut into the Red Devils’ chances for home-field advantage when the playoffs start after next week.
In the meantime, South Iredell remains undefeated heading into a game at East Burke next week.
“This is an accomplishment for us,” said South Iredell coach Scott Miller. “We are 10-0 and beat a great team tonight, but we have still got a lot of stuff to fix.”
Some of those things to fix likely includes the Vikings’ own turnovers, because while South Iredell punished Newton-Conover for their mistakes, the home team was first to feel the fumble pain.
After the Vikings held the Red Devils to three-and-out on their first possession, South Iredell made a mistake on special teams. Newton-Conover’s punt sailed high, however, the Red Devils were penalized for kick interference. Instead of taking the penalty, the Vikings wanted a re-kick.
The Vikings fumbled the second punt, and Newton-Conover’s Jake Cansler recovered the ball at the South Iredell 27. Four plays and 27 yards later, Adonis Hewitt rushed six yards to scored. The PAT put the visitors ahead 7-0.
Newton-Conover forced a Vikings punt on their ensuing possession, but when Hewitt fumbled the ball deep in Red Devils territory, South Iredell’s John Bustle’s recovery put the Vikings just inside the Red Devils red zone.
But not for long.
On the next play, Newton-Conover’s Octavius Harden intercepted a pass and returned it 74 yards to score and help put the Devils ahead 14-0.
The Vikings were down, but not out, and South Iredell’s Tyrell Mattox returned the ensuing kick-off 64 yards to score. A penalty negated a big chunk of the run and the touchdown, but a few plays later South Iredell quarterback Cory Powell rushed 22 yards to score and cap a four-play, 47-yard drive. At the end of the first quarter, Newton-Conover led 14-6.
A few minutes later, the Vikings came within one point, when Powell connected with Tyrell Mattox for a 33-yard touchdown pass. The score ended a six-play, 89-yard drive, and the PAT whittled the Red Devils’ lead to one point, 14-13.
Enjoying the smallest margin, mistakes began to haunt the Red Devils. After the Vikings held Newton-Conover to three-and-out midway through the second quarter, a long snap on a punting play sailed past Josue Moscotti. The punter recovered the ball and managed a short kick, but the play ultimately lost the Red Devils 39 yards of real estate.
One play later, Powell connected with Qwatrey Smyre on a 19-yard touchdown pass that helped give the Vikings their first lead of the night, 19-14.
They never trailed again.
“You can’t make mistakes,” Bazzle told WNNC at halftime. “You have got to play close to perfect to beat a good team.”
The Red Devils weren’t close to perfect in the second half.
Opening the half with the ball, Newton-Conover quickly fumbled on an exchange between Hewitt and Octavius Harden. Harden recovered the loose ball, but the Devils couldn’t hold on to it long. Hewitt fumbled again later in the drive, and South Iredell’s Cody Patterson recovered the ball on the Vikings’ 42-yard line.
Six plays and 57 yards later, the Vikings converted the turnover into points. Cameron Mattox scored on a one-yard run, and while the PAT pass failed, the Vikings extended their lead to 25-14.
“If we could ever learn to protect the football, this team can go a long way,” Bazzle said.
The Red Devils demonstrated that on their next drive. Newton-Conover marched 63 yards in five plays, and Harden’s 32-yard scamper helped bring the Red Devils within five points, 25-20. More importantly, it seemed Newton-Conover was building back some of that first quarter momentum.
The Devils defense held the Vikings to three-and-out and Newton-Conover was in the position to retake the lead.
South Iredell’s Smyre killed those hopes when he intercepted a pass from Hewitt and returned it 10 yards. A late hit penalty against Newton-Conover after the play gave the Vikings the ball at the Red Devils’ 21.
It took four plays for Cameron Mattox to run for his second touchdown — this time on a three-yard run — to give South Iredell a 32-20 lead. Mattox finished the night with 97 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries to lead the Vikings. Smyre led South Iredell receivers with three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.
“Those two guys are men,” Miller said. “They are unbelievable athletes. They play hard and everything we do is centered around them and the rest of the team. Every kid on our team, whether they play or not, is part of this family, and that’s how we are trying to change the dynamic around here.”
Newton-Conover fumbled again on their ensuing possession, and when South Iredell’s recovered at the Red Devils’ 8-yard line, the Vikings were poised to begin driving coffin nails. Facing fourth and short with their backs against the wall, the Red Devils defense held strong and took the ball from the Vikings on downs.
Methodically, the Red Devils marched down the field, running play after running play. Seventeen plays and 87 yards later, Jamal Coates scored on a two-yard run that ended a six-minute drive that brought the Red Devils within four points of a tie.
Coates finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Harden led Red Devil rushers with 125 yards and a score on 19 carries. Harden also had a last-second chance to give Newton-Conover the win.
The Red Devils defense followed the Coates touchdown by stopping the Vikings and Newton-Conover got the ball back with 40 seconds to play. A couple of quick plays gained ground, and with time running out, replacement quarterback Cameron Shuford connected with Harden on a play with potential. Harden made a man miss and was looking for open field, when he was tackled and the Devils first defeat of 2010 was official.
“For us to lose 32-28 with that many turnovers, that says a lot about our football team,” Bazzle said. “We are just going to have to find a way to play cleaner football, and if we do, the sky is the limit.”
Newton-Conover ends its season at West Caldwell next week.