Bull­dogs rally, but can’t catch Elkton

Estep runs for 245 yards, four TDs in first half to lead Golden Elks

Times-Record - - Front Page - By WIL­LIAM HAUFE bhaufe@star­dem.com.

ELKTON — The writ­ing on the back of James McCormick’s black T-shirt read “The Ridge.”

Af­ter a 20-point third quar­ter had slashed North Caro­line High’s deficit to 13 — fu­el­ing the no­tion of an epic come­back in the mak­ing — some­one in the Bull­dogs’ large, trav­el­ing fan base may have toyed with the idea of mak­ing an­other shirt for their head football coach that read “The Climb.”

ELKTON — The writ­ing on the back of James McCormick’s black Tshirt read “The Ridge.”

Af­ter a 20-point third quar­ter had slashed North Caro­line High’s deficit to 13 — fu­el­ing the no­tion of an epic come­back in the mak­ing — some­one in the Bull­dogs’ large, trav­el­ing fan base may have toyed with the idea of mak­ing an­other shirt for their head football coach that read “The Climb.”

North Caro­line couldn’t com­plete that steep climb though Fri­day night, as Elkton ju­nior run­ning back Raiquon Estep’s daz­zling first-half per­for­mance of 20 car­ries for 245 yards and four touch­downs helped the Golden Elks to a 33-0 half­time bulge that proved enough for an even­tual 33-20 vic­tory in the Class 2A East Re­gion cham­pi­onship.

“We got our butts whipped. That’s what hap­pened in the first half,” said McCormick, who watched Elkton score touch­downs on five of its first six pos­ses­sions for a 33-0 lead with 6 min­utes, 36 sec­onds re­main­ing in the first half. “Elkton had a good game plan. The Estep kid is a spe­cial player and we couldn’t pull his flag.

“I think we were a lit­tle shell­shocked,” added McCormick, whose team trailed 19-0 with just 5:22 elapsed in the re­match of last year’s re­gion fi­nal, won by the Bull­dogs. “It took us awhile to wake up and get our feet un­der us and set­tle down. Un­for­tu­nately, we gave up 33 points in the first half, and in a re­gion fi­nal you can’t give up 33 points

and win too many times.”

But af­ter seven first-half pos­ses­sions equaled one first down, four punts, two turnovers, and a run­ning play as the clock ex­pired, North Caro­line (9-3) made things in­ter­est­ing.

“Here’s the thing,” Elkton head coach Matt Feeney said. “You go into the half­time, lead up 33-0, what we gen­er­ally are do­ing is half­time ad­just­ments. And we re­ally just … I hate to say it, but we just said, ‘Hey, get off your feet for a few min­utes and just re­lax, and we’re go­ing to go out and keep do­ing what we’re do­ing.’ Well, it al­most bit us.”

Tak­ing the sec­ond-half kick­off, the Bull­dogs molded an 8-play, 66-yard scor­ing drive that ended with David Bai­ley’s 7-yard touch­down run around left end with 8:23 left in the third quar­ter. Will Man­ship added the ex­tra­point kick.

“We made a cou­ple of lit­tle ad­just­ments at half­time,” McCormick said. “We told the kids, ‘Just set­tle down, get your feet un­der you. Let’s get some first downs. Get some points on the board; get things rolling and see what hap­pens. You take those lit­tle steps and let the lit­tle steps add up and see what you can get done.’”

Estep car­ried for 11 yards on Elkton’s first play of the sec­ond half, but four plays later the Golden Elks punted.

Seven plays and a per­sonal-foul flag on the Golden Elks car­ried the Bull­dogs from their 41 to Elkton’s 3. But Bai­ley was stacked up for a 2-yard loss. Tay Potts slipped for a 1-yard loss, and quar­ter­back Cody Pep­per was sacked for a 5-yard loss. Then on fourth-and-goal from the 12, Bai­ley, look­ing to throw a half­back op­tion, ran right, cut back left and with two de­fend­ers on the verge of tak­ing him down, pushed a pass to­ward Luke Ruffo, who made the catch and ran un­touched into the end zone for a 33-13 deficit with 1:59 left in the third quar­ter.

Man­ship missed the ex­tra point, but a per­sonal-foul penalty against Elkton on the touch­down, moved the en­su­ing kick­off up 15 yards. North Caro­line re­cov­ered an on­sides kick at the Elkton 35. An­other un­sports­man­like call against the Golden Elks pushed the ball to their 20. Three plays later, Potts tore through an open­ing on the right side for 14 yards, set­ting up Al­lan Saathoff’s 1-yard touch­down plunge. Man­ship added the pointafter, draw­ing the Bull­dogs within 33-20 with 9 sec­onds left in the third quar­ter.

“Now, in the sec­ond half, my hat is tipped be­cause they put to­gether a sec­ond­half plan that was top notch,” Feeney said of North Caro­line. “And I wouldn’t ex­pect any­thing less from coach McCormick. I mean that guy is as good as it gets.

“Was I a lit­tle bit ner­vous?” Feeney an­swered when asked the ques­tion of North Caro­line’s third-quar­ter rally. “Yeah, I was a lit­tle bit ner­vous. But you know what, that got tem­pered quickly be­cause I know my de­fense will rise up. They did. They don’t back down.”

Be­fore Elkton’s de­fense got back on the field, its of­fense — be­hind a 19-yard, third­down pass from Jack­son Ar­goe to J’Qwan Ben­son, and the tough, in­side run­ning of Colby Sewell — ate up 6:26 of clock be­fore North Caro­line got the ball back at its 12 with 5:37 re­main­ing.

A jug­gling 32-yard re­cep­tion by Potts, and Pep­per’s 15-yard com­ple­tion to Bai­ley pushed the Bull­dogs to the Golden Elks’ 24. Pep­per threw in­com­plete on first down, be­fore Elkton’s Tyler Du­rant broke up a sec­ond­down pass play. Bai­ley was dropped for a 2-yard loss on third down be­fore Estep knocked down Pep­per’s fourth-down pass in­tended for Rob­bie Blakely.

Elkton, which was held to 82 sec­ond-half yards af­ter amass­ing 384 in the first half, went three-and-out. Potts fielded a punt at mid­field and re­turned to the Golden Elks’ 23, where a face­mask penalty on Elkton moved the ball to the 12. Pep­per lost the ball, re­cov­ered and was sacked for a 7-yard loss on first down. Pep­per and Ruffo con­nected for a 9-yard pickup be­fore Potts ran for three. On fourth down from the 8, Pep­per’s throw for Ruffo in the back of the end zone was bro­ken up by Mike Matthews, giv­ing Elkton pos­ses­sion with 32 sec­onds re­main­ing.

“Lot of heart and in­tegrity,” McCormick said of his team. “When things are easy you can count on every­body. When times are tough, who’s go­ing to be the per­son stand­ing next to you? Who’s the per­son you can count on? Our guys re­sponded. They played their tails off to the very last sec­ond. They kept fight­ing and I was proud.

“It’s a tale of two halves,” McCormick added. “And our first half was pretty bad, and our sec­ond half quite didn’t make up for it. We didn’t have enough time to get 33 points on the board.”

That was due largely to Elkton’s of­fen­sive line and Estep’s bril­liant run­ning.

“He’s fast and he’s got great lat­eral move­ment,” McCormick said of Estep, who fin­ished with 28 car­ries for 266 yards. “You get a kid like him in a tight space and he’s mak­ing lat­eral move­ments on you, some­times it’s tough to get him.”

Ar­goe’s 23-yard touch­down pass to Ben­son and Ge­orge Mon­tras’ point-af­ter kick gave Elkton a 7-0 lead 2:03 into the game. Af­ter a Caro­line three-and-out, Estep found a seam on the left side for a 63-yard gain, then ran 12 yards for a touch­down on the next play. North Caro­line’s Jamion Franklin blocked Mon­tras’ point-af­ter kick.

Af­ter an­other Caro­line three-and-out, Estep bolted 73 yards on first down for a touch­down and a 19-0 lead.

“We played re­ally good football in all as­pects,” Feeney said of his team’s first half. “We put the ball in (num­ber) six’s hands and asked him to do Raiquon things. And he did Raiquon things. I think North Caro­line was a lit­tle taken aback by what our our of­fen­sive line pre­sented them.”

North Caro­line forced a punt on Elkton’s next pos­ses­sion, but the Golden Elks re­cov­ered a Saathoff fum­ble at the Bull­dogs’ 38. Five plays later, Estep scored on a 13-yard run for a 25-0 lead 16 sec­onds into the sec­ond quar­ter.

The Bull­dogs looked to be work­ing on their sec­ond stop of the first half when Franklin sacked Ar­goe for a 12yard loss, set­ting up sec­on­dand-27. But Estep dashed up field on a draw, broke right and blazed down the side­line for a 48-yard touch­down run.

“My jaw dropped on some of his runs tonight,” Feeney said of Estep, who broke the school’s sin­gle-sea­son rush­ing record held by John Triplett. “And that is why I’m just try­ing to cher­ish ev­ery minute I get to coach that kid and watch him play football, be­cause he’s go­ing to go on to big­ger and bet­ter things. You don’t see Raiquon Esteps come along all that of­ten, espe­cially here in Elkton.”

North Caro­line looked ready to put its first points on the board, when Ruffo caught a Bai­ley pass and raced down­field. But Ruffo had the ball stripped and the Golden Elks re­cov­ered at their 4-yard line.

Notes: Elkton is seeded third and plays at No. 2 Calvert (11-1) on Fri­day in one 2A state semi­fi­nal at 7 p.m. Top-seeded Walk­ersville (12-0) hosts No. 4 Dun­bar in Fri­day’s other semi­fi­nal . ... Ar­goe com­pleted 7 of 11 for 112 yards and a touch­down. ... Bai­ley led North Caro­line with 10 car­ries for 42 yards, com­pleted both his pass at­tempts for 93 yards and a score, and had two re­cep­tions for 21 yards.

PHOTO BY WIL­LIAM HAUFE

North Caro­line’s Zaye Rochester (far right) fol­lows the block­ing of Rob­bie Blakely (11), David Bai­ley (2) and Tay Potts (3) dur­ing Fri­day night’s sec­ond half.

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