Defense Ahead of Offense in Scrimmages
Fans and coaches got an idea of what teams will look like in game situations over the last few days, as football programs across the state began scrimmaging.
Pinecrest hosted a four-team scrimmage Thursday morning, then traveled to the Cumberland County Football Jamboree that evening, where the Patriots faced off against Cape Fear High School.
Meanwhile, Union Pines hosted a spirited scrimmage against Lee County Thursday morning, then welcomed West Columbus for “Meet the Vikings Night” Friday evening.
North Moore is scheduled to participate in a six-team jamboree hosted by Eastern Randolph on Saturday.
On a Thursday that included morning and evening scrimmages, the Pinecrest football team saved its best for last.
“There were some spurts of greatness,” said head coach Chris Metzger. “The offense usually comes a little later than defense, but we just felt like they got better as the scrimmage progressed, which was encouraging.”
The Patriots’ first and second teams saw about equal action in the three morning contests against Jack Britt, Douglas Byrd and Broughton held on the practice field at Pinecrest. The teams ran three sets of 10 plays on offense and defense on the 40-yard fields in each of the scrimmages.
An opportunistic Patriot defense recovered three fumbles during the first 10 plays the Jack Britt offense was on the field. On the first Patriot play from scrimmage, Raphael Alston took a pitch out from quarterback Travis Scales and sped 40 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. The Buccaneers were 4AA state runners-up in 2008 and 2009.
Jack Britt scored twice on a Patriot defense that overall on the day gave up ground grudgingly and produced several more turnovers, including interceptions by brothers Javonte and Jacquis Alston.
“I felt like the kids did a nice job,” said Metzger of the defense. “I just feel like they can’t get fat and happy. They gave great effort, and we played a ton of kids, so that was good.”
The offense looked out of sync at times but demonstrated a big-play capability throughout the morning. Raphael Alston went the other way on a 25-yard scoring run against Byrd. Bryan Van Cleave went straight up the middle on two 40-yard scoring jaunts.
Scales passed to Patrick Moore for about a 25-yard touchdown, and Xavier Whitten ran for another one to complete the scoring in the morning’s final contest against Broughton.
Eighteen teams participated in the Cumberland County Football Jamboree held on the artificial turf at Fayetteville State University Thursday evening.
Cape Fear scored first as quarterback Mike Bridgeman pierced the Patriot defense with a strike down the middle of the field. But the Patriot defense came to life after that. Sacks by Antonio Jones and Luke Fetla, the knockdown of a pass by Terry Marsh, and an interception by Allen Watson helped set the tone.
“We just need to keep emphasizing turnovers and keep flying to the ball,” Metzger said. “When you hustle, great things can happen.”
With Zach Strickland setting things up by picking up some good yardage inside the tackles, the first of three unanswered touchdowns by the Patriots came on a 35-yard option run to the outside by Scales.
On the next Patriot possession, David Alston made a spectacular grab on a pass from Scales but was ruled out of bounds. Moments later, he and Scales combined for 10 yards before Scales snuck it in from the 2-yard line.
A 39-yard pass to Moore set up the final touchdown on another quarterback sneak by Scales. Safety Hunter Ocheltree added another Patriot interception in the waning minutes.
Pinecrest was without senior running back Damion Pride throughout the day.
“We just held him out,” Metzger said. “He just had a little bit of an ankle sprain, so we just tried to be a little bit proactive.”
Second-year coach Ryan Riggan thought the Vikings showed progress between the Thursday morning and Friday evening scrimmages.
“I thought our guys worked really hard tonight,” said Riggan after his team took on West Columbus. “Thursday, I thought it was disappointing offensively, and the guys did too. So it was nice to be able to come out and do some things well with the football.”
Dressing only its varsity roster Friday night, Union Pines had 47 players suited up for the scrimmage, in which punts automatically turned the ball over 30 yards downfield, no kickoffs or extra points were attempted and interceptions and fumbles were immediately whistled dead.
Defensive end Carson Kelly and defensive back Frankie Stoney set the tone early by stifling the West Columbus running attack up the middle. Stoney had six tackles on the night, a team-high for the Vikings, while both Kelly and Robbie Schroder had some big hits in the backfield.
“I thought our defense played well as a unit,” Riggan said. “We had lots of gang tackling going on and getting to the ball, with not much standing around or being caught out of position.”
The Viking offensive standouts were junior running backs A.J. Ritter and John McMillan and receivers Braxton Ross (sophomore) and Dareeus White (junior). White reeled in four receptions on the day, including a 46-yard touchdown pass from Seth Breassale, while Ross had success on screen-type plays.
“Braxton Ross made some nice plays on the edge after catching screens, and our offensive line made tremendous strides in getting out and blocking for him,” said Riggan. “Last year, when you watch the films, it seemed there was too much standing around from the unit on those type plays.
“That left side of the line particularly gelled tonight, made some big blocks, and enabled Braxton the space to run after catches.”
Overall, Union Pines’ offensive line managed to open lanes for the backs to maneuver through and also gave quarterbacks Taylor O’Neil and Breassale adequate time to pass both in the pocket and while rolling out.
It was a different story Thursday against a big, physical Lee County squad. The Vikings seemed disjointed offensively and gave up two touchdowns on the Yellow Jackets’ first three offensive sets.
Even so, Riggan still saw some encouraging signs.
“Our backs ran really hard, extremely hard actually, considering the blocking they had,” he said. “Defensively, I was pleased with the instensity I saw. Our first 13 guys on defense all just love to play the game, and it showed today in the way they performed and swarmed to the ball once they settled in.”
Openers on Tap
Riggan has watched Red Springs, the Vikings’ season-opening opponent, scrimmage and says the Red Devils and West Columbus are similar teams.
“West Columbus does pretty much the same thing on both sides of the ball,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for us to go up against another team that actually does it, instead of having to just face up against our scout team and trying to recreate it.”
Union Pines hosts Red Springs this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
For the second straight season, Pinecrest opens hosting Enloe at John Williams Stadium. The game takes place this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s the only focus,” said Metzger. “It’s the Super Bowl. There’s only one game. It’s Enloe. We don’t care about any other game than that one.”
Meanwhile, North Moore opens Aug. 27 hosting Princeton at 7:30 p.m.
Charlie Bergmann and F.W. Manning II contributed reporting to this article
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