Bulldogs lock up top seed in East
NC runs the clock on the Buccaneers, who are eliminated from playoff contention
The North Caroline High football team locked up home field throughout the upcoming Class 2A East Region playoffs with Friday evening’s 41-6 victory over Kent Island at Andy Schipul Stadium.
The Bayside Conference’s lone unbeaten team at 9-0, the Bulldogs led the Buccaneers, 28-0, at halftime, and eventually ran the clock. Though it doesn’t eliminate the sting of a crushing, firstround playoff loss suffered to Kent Island in 2017, it does clear another hurdle on the road back to the postseason.
The 33-29, East semifinal defeat still weighed on the returning players, and the team’s work is hardly finished.
“It wasn’t going to change last year,” North Caroline head coach James McCormick said via a telephone interview Saturday afternoon. “But it was a big game. You can’t change it, I understand. It’s not end-all, beall, but there was a little bit of payback this week. You have to be sharp going into the playoffs, our guys understand that. As we get close to the playoffs, you want to sharpen things up.”
Senior Will Manship scored on a 67-yard, catchand-run from classmate and quarterback Casey Byrd on the second play of the game, and Manship followed by converting the point-after touchdown, part of a 5-for-6 night on extra points. A 22yard TD run from senior Joey Bildstein made it 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
Caroline pushed the lead to 21-0 near the end of the opening period, when junior defensive end Carlton Johnson registered a strip-sackfumble, and junior Kendron Wayman scooped the loose ball and returned it 27 yards for the score.
“The game plan was to be ready for a tough game,” McCormick said. “Our kids were going to fight and scratch and claw and come to play. Kent Island has a history of success and we had to have a great game plan coming in.”
Manship added a 54-yard touchdown carry before halftime, and a 32-yard rush from junior Montrese Deshields triggered the running clock with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter. Senior Savion Blake’s 3-yard run in the third capped scoring for the visitors.
The Bulldogs have now set their sights on home field all the way into the 2A state final, a goal they can further solidify by winning their Week 10 matchup with county rival Colonel Richardson. Defeating Colonel for the Superintendent’s Cup will also mean the third 10-0 regular season for McCormick in the last four years.
“It’s a rivalry game, and it’s a big game for us,” McCormick said. “We’re still trying to get home field throughout the playoffs, and if we get a win, we have a chance, make people come to us instead of going to them.”
“Our guys understand when you get to the playoffs, the games get tougher,” McCormick added. “You’ve got to compete every game.”
For Kent Island, which fell to 4-5, a 1-yard touchdown run by senior Styles Wilson in the fourth accounted for the only score. The Buccaneers’ playoff chances were already dim heading in, but now they are eliminated, ending a string of 10 straight 2A East postseason appearances.
Freshman quarterback Matthew Burnside sat for precautionary reasons after suffering a neck injury last week against Easton, leaving sophomore running back Ke’juan Johnson to take most of the snaps directly. Head coach Damian Ferragamo said he expects Burnside will be out there for the Week 10, Chesapeake Cup battle with Queen Anne’s County.
With the Lions (4-5) also eliminated from postseason contention, Friday’s game will allow the victor to finish with a .500 mark. While that goal is less than ideal for the Bucs — who have lost five in a row after starting 4-0 — the game still holds great meaning for the seniors suiting up in pads competitively for the final time.
“Whether you’re 9-0 or 0-9, this is the last chance for a lot of kids, who will never again in their lives play football,” Ferragamo said via a telephone interview Saturday morning. “Every game in high school is important, and when it’s the last time you do it, it adds a little bit more to it that counts. Hoping our seniors understand it, come out and have no regrets about the game.
“It’s been difficult,” Ferragamo said of struggling in the second half of the season. “Every injury is magnified because we don’t have a 43-man roster like in years past, get that depth, everything is magnified throughout the course of the year. Health has been a big part of it, but we’re getting to full strength for the first time in a long time going into Week 10.”