Bulldogs Grind Way To 6-0
Johnson’s blocked punt, Wayman’s recovery help North Caroline keep up undefeated run
RIDGELY — C.J. Johnson bolted off the right edge, right toward Easton High punter Alex Stecher-Scott.
A year ago Johnson made this look like an art, blocking five punts for North Caroline High’s unbeaten junior varsity football team. Now, deep into this season’s sixth game, the junior defensive end was about to block his first for the Bulldogs’ unbeaten varsity.
Stecher-Scott’s rightfooted kick appeared to go off the face mask of the airborne Johnson, who crashlanded but got to his feet in time to see teammate Kendron Wayman laying on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown Friday night that helped North Caroline to a 14-3 victory over stubborn Easton before a nearly packed house.
“It’s 7-3,” North Caroline head coach James McCormick said of his team’s lead less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter. “It’s a tight game. We’re not finishing drives. We’re not sticking it in the end zone and getting that extra score or two that’s going to give us that cushion. And that’s what C.J. does. This was his first one he got this year. But it came at a nice time.”
It came with North Caroline (6-0) holding its slimmest second-half lead of the season at 7-3, and eventually finishing with its lowest point total of the year. It also came on a night filled with penalities and turnovers, the Bulldogs fumbling away potential scoring chances on the Warrior 15, 14, 9 and 17yard lines. But it came. “I saw how the kicker was coming at my direction,” Johnson said. “So I started off with my hands, before I got off the ball, in a diamond, knowing it would be easier to block it and be more secure with it. I was able to use my speed and get there quick enough before it got kicked.”
Before the opening kickoff, this annual grudge match had the ingredients for an offensive showcase with the potential to rival the Bulldogs’ 49-48 victory in 2016. North Caroline arrived averaging 36.6 points a game, while Easton sophomore quarterback Ryan O’Connor had passed for 1,135 yards and 17 touchdowns.
But the offensive fireworks never materialized.
North Caroline totaled seven first downs and 111 yards over five first-half possessions, which ended with
a fumble, three punts and a turnover on downs. Easton finished with seven first downs and 147 yards over six first-half possessions, which ended with three punts, a fumble, and time running out in the half.
The Warriors’ other possession — a six-play, 86yard scoring drive, featuring runs of 21 and 50 yards by Thatcher Knox (10 carries, season-high 115 yards) — was capped by StecherScott’s 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead 17 seconds into the second quarter, the first points scored on North Caroline’s first-team defense this season.
Defenses again ruled the second half, with the Bulldogs continuing to pressure O’Connor, who for the game completed 12 of 36 for a season-low 68 yards and one interception. It was the first time Easton’s quarterback had been held without a touchdown and under 140 yards all season.
“I’m not foolish to think 3-0 was going to win the game,” Warriors head coach Pat McGlinchey said, his team now 2-4. “But their defense was really attacking us. They really brought a lot of pressure. Our line really didn’t hold up in the second half. It held up decently in the first half. But in the second half they got to us and were able to get to Ryan. And that’s, dare I say, a cardinal sin for an offensive line. They know that no one is supposed to touch their quarterback. And North Caroline did a lot of that in the second half.”
North Caroline, which got a 24-carry, 154-yard rushing effort from Joey Bildstein, moved from its 43 to the Warrior 33, where on fourthand-8, quarterback Casey Bryd broke loose for a 31yard gain. Two plays later, Ryan Bauer (18-72) slanted off the left side for a 1-yard touchdown run. Will Manship added the extra point for a 7-3 Bulldog lead with 5:51 left in the third quarter.
After an Easton three-andout, North Caroline looked ready to extend its lead, going from its 48 to Easton’s 14. But the Bulldogs fumbled and Easton’s Noah Greene made the second of his three recoveries.
“Our defense played lights out,” McGlinchey said. “It was by far the best game for them. Jarin Winters was as monster. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on those turnovers.”
The Warriors mustered two yards on their next possession, forcing and punt, which resulted in Johnson’s block, Wayman’s touchdown fumble recovery and Manship’s second PAT for a 14-3 lead.
Easton’s next two possessions ended with North Caroline’s Tucker Stevens stripping the ball from O’Connor — the first recovered by Johnson, the second recovered by Easton on fourth down. The Warriors’ final two second-half possessions ended with Trent Hillard intercepting O’Connor and Johnson sacking O’Connor on fourth down.
“It wasn’t pretty,” McCormick said. “We had a lot of turnovers. We had a lot of penalties that just weren’t smart. But our kids competed. Sometimes you’ve got to win ugly.
“Our defense played out of their minds,” added McCormick of a unit that yielded only two first downs after blocking the punt. “Ryan Bauer locked down the (Easton wide receiver Grant) Copper kid. We left him out there on an island a lot and he made some great plays. Our two defensive ends, Kendron and C.J., they were pressuring the kid all night long. If we can keep playing like that, we’ll be all right.”
North Caroline’s Tucker Stevens (4) strips the ball from Easton quarterback Ryan O’Connor for the sack and fumble, which was recovered by the Bulldogs.
North Caroline’s C.J. Johnson, left, blocks Alex Stecher-Scott’s punt in the fourth quarter Friday night to help give the Bulldogs a 14-3 lead.