Red Devils blank Huskies to advance in 2AA playoffs

With all of its starters in the line up Friday, the Newton-Conover football team pounded Ashe County.

The Red Devils (9-3) tallied 49 points on offense and held the Huskies scoreless to move on to the second round of the 2AA playoffs.

“When we have our guys all healthy and have the week of preparation like we did, we can be pretty good,” said N-C coach Brint Russell. “We just have to come out and match that intensity next week.”

Newton-Conover hosts Bandys (8-4) next Friday in the second round. The Trojans knocked off East Burke, 34-7, in Catawba.

Quarterback Kevin Cline threw two touchdowns for N-C and rushed for another, while junior Nick Baker churned up 128 yards on the ground and another Red Devil score.

The Newton-Conover offense combined for 330 yards on the ground, including 75 by Matt Coulter, 29 from Marquis Pope, Cline's 59 and Baker's 128.

Ashe County (4-8) was without one of its best players in leading rusher Jonathan Cox, who injured his ankle during Wednesday's practice. Cox, a junior, had rushed for 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns entering Friday's playoff game.

Cox's absence was felt by the Huskies, who managed just 41 total yards of offense in the first half and 128 for the game.

"Our defensive performance was very strong tonight," said N-C senior captain and linebacker Jarren Pitts. "Our job was to keep the intensity of the game up because in the past, we fell off in the first half and didn't come out intense at all. We just decided to come out with a strong defensive effort to give the offense the ball more."

Red Devil linebacker Jordan Martin made a standout play on defense for his team, returning an interception of Ashe County quarterback Conner Bowers for a touchdown.

Martin had struggled with shoulder issues the past four weeks of the season before his breakout touchdown in Friday's first round contest.

"It means a lot to me and our team," said Martin of his scoring play. "To be back out there, I loved it. They had a screen play. I just saw the ball in the air, reached up, picked it and scored. I didn't think I was going all the way until I saw blockers in front of me. Then, I knew I was going to score. It felt great."

Russell said Martin's play was huge for his squad.

"That's the first time we've scored on defense this year," Russell said. "That was big."

Newton-Conover defensive back Ben Forney also forced a turnover, ripping a ball away from Huskies wide receiver Jacob Blevins.

Forney's interception was the fifth of his career, but it holds a special place in his heart.

"I was going for the interception," Forney said. "(Blevins) caught the ball. One of my teammates tried to grab and tackle him. I just took the ball from him and ripped it out. This is my most memorable interception."

Russell said Forney's defensive play was a product of using what he has learned all season.

"We teach strip drills all the time," Russell said. "We're all about turnovers. We believe if we create turnovers, we are going to win football games. Ben didn't do a good job of defending that pass, but he made up for it with the strip. He can run a little bit, too. He is a 'scooter bug' in there. I'm proud of Bennie. He's had an outstanding year at corner for us."

A scary moment late was the only sour spot for Newton-Conover.

With just over 10 minutes left to play in the game, Cline was hurt on an eight-yard run on first down and goal after being tackled out of bounds. He limped off with an apparent leg injury.

After the game, Cline said he suffered small injury in his knee with some swelling, but said he should be ready to practice by Monday.

Russell echoed Cline's statement about being in good physical condition.

"(Kevin) is a little dramatic," Russell said. "He likes to be loved on a little bit. I tell him that. He is the heart and soul of what we do. Any time you see him go down, you kind of catch your breath a little bit and wonder if he is okay, but he bounces back up and runs back. Heck, he is a full back. He just throws the football every now and then and hands it off. He is a tough kid. He will be fine. After the game, his knee was just tweaked. He had pulled something. He had already stretched it out and was ready to go. He'll be fine next week. That won't be an issue."

That injury, along with other substitutions, allowed several players from this year's undefeated Red Devils' junior varsity squad to play in Friday's playoff contest, including quarterback Cameron Stanley and runningg backs Shyheim Gore, Sam England, Sayvion Proctor and Gage Baldwin.

Russell said the experience gained by all reserve players will help his program in the future.

"It's huge because you never know. They are an injury from going in," he said. "To get Cameron Stanley in there at quarterback to get some snaps was huge. To get that entire second string offense line in was big because those guys are a year or two years from being our team. To experience the playoffs and to see what it is all about, it is just big for them a little bit to get a taste of it so they won't be shell-shocked in the future."

The Red Devils enter next Friday's second round playoff contest trying to repeat their effort from a 35-14 win on Sept. 21 against Bandys, which was also played at Gurley Stadium.

"The only problem with playing Bandys is that it is hard to beat a team twice," Pitts said. "They've seen us and know what we do. We know what they do. The game is going to be up and down the whole time. We have to come out with a very strong defensive effort and very strong offensive effort to pull out a win next week."

Newton-Conover enters the contest having won seven-straight games — a streak that started with its home win against the Trojans.

Russell expects a hungry Bandys team will show up with intentions of ending the Red Devils' season.

"It's a tough to beat a good team twice," he said. "Bandys is a very good football team. They'll come in here 8-4 next Friday. Coach (Randy) Lowman is pretty good in the playoffs. He'll have something up his sleeve for us. We expect everything they've got. They are going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder because they came here earlier in the year and felt like if they hadn't turned the ball over that it would have been a different outcome. They are going to bring full force. We're going to have to match that intensity."