The Owen Warhorses rode their workhorse to a first-round win over the Newton-Conover Red Devils, and he is a big one.
Running back Austin Davis, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior, had a game-high 197 yards rushing and three offensive touchdowns for Owen in a 28-25 win at Gurley Stadium.
Davis scored 26 points Friday — four touchdowns and a 2-point conversion — and called his performance a “career night.” Owen coach Ken Ford said Davis has made “big plays” the entire season.
But his biggest play of the night came on defense. Davis intercepted a pitch from backup quarterback Cameron Shuford and returned it 63 yards for the Warhorses’ final touchdown of the night.
Shuford stepped in after starting quarterback Adonis Hewitt injured his collarbone in the second half. Hewitt led the Red Devils with 100 yards rushing.
“Probably a lot of that is Cameron hasn’t had a lot of snaps at quarterback because we needed him so much at wide receiver,” said Newton-Conover head coach Nick Bazzle. “If you don’t take a lot of snaps under center in live situations, you kind of panic back there because you are not used to seeing things there right in your face.”
The Warhorses play next week at Shelby in the second round of the 2-AA West playoffs. Their win Friday at Gurley Stadium broke a pair of streaks for the Red Devils. The loss was Newton-Conover’s first in the past 25 home games and first in the past seven home playoff games. Newton-Conover last lost 23-17 in overtime three years ago to East Lincoln.
The Red Devils ended the season 10-2 overall and finished second in the Catawba Valley 2-A for the second consecutive season. Bazzle, however, was pleased with the season despite its rough ending.
“With all the injuries, we wound up winning 10 games,” he said. “If you told me at the beginning of the season we’d have our best lineman only part time, bring a freshman up to the line and have two sophomore in the secondary, I wouldn’t believe you.”
Newton-Conover once again struggled with turnovers. The Red Devils fumbled the ball five times and lost three. However, they, also made big plays on offense and special teams.
Octavius Harden returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown — answering an Owen touchdown on the previous possession — giving Newton-Conover a 10-6 lead.
“That play he made, that was ridiculous,” Bazzle said. “It was all No. 22 and making people miss.”
Harden also ran 42 yards on his second carry of the game, and he made a 35-yard catch in the first half converting a third down. That catch set up Shuford’s 35-yard touchdown run, which gave Newton-Conover an 18-6 lead. Harden ran for 89 yards and had a rushing touchdown.
Owen made its share of big plays late in the game. After Davis’ fumble recovery for a touchdown, the Warhorses’ recovered a fourth-down fumble by Newton-Conover’s Jervasse Herrin at their 29-yard line with 7 minutes 49 seconds left in the game. The Warhorses marched 67 yards down the field — converting a fourth-and-1 on a 4-yard run by Davis — on offense and held the ball the remainder of the game.
“That fourth-down stop was huge,” Ford said. “We made one big play down there with two minutes left. We wanted to grind it out and didn’t want to give them the ball back at all.”