Southampton Academy tops two-time defending state champs

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Quarterback Andrew Lowe readies for the snap from his center, while running back Roy Hill (32) and left guard Austin Tomlin (70) prepare to block. -- SUBMITTED | MARY DILDAY

Quarterback Andrew Lowe readies for the snap from his center, while running back Roy Hill (32) and left guard Austin Tomlin (70) prepare to block. — SUBMITTED | MARY DILDAY

Southampton Academy head coach Dale Marks said earlier this season that he had two games circled on his team’s schedule: Rocky Mount and Arendell Parrott. In the season finale, the Raiders will get their shot at the latter, which beat them twice last year. But first, they made sure to exact revenge on the two-time defending state champion Eagles.

“We thought going in that they were going to be one of the two or three best teams on our schedule,” Marks said.

Senior quarterback Andrew Lowe, facing Rocky Mount for the second time in his career after he came on in relief of an injured Matt Rose one season ago, was the difference in the game. On the opening drive, he marched the Raiders down the field and hit junior tight end Brooks Holland running across the middle for a touchdown. Lowe carried the ball five times for 36 yards on the nine-play drive, which was capped off by a successful two-point conversion run by junior running back Roy Hill.

“I thought we could move the ball on them, and I always take the ball first and try to score; try to set the tone offensively,” Marks said.

Rocky Mount’s subsequent drive went nowhere, as running back Caleb Lambert was stuffed for no gain on two-consecutive plays. The Eagles then attempted a wide receiver reverse on third down, but the trickery was sniffed out by Lowe, who also plays linebacker the Raiders.

“On film, they have a really tricky offense to defend with a lot of pulling guards,” Marks said, “but our kids did well of staying with their keys and being where they’re supposed to be. For the most part, we were able to shut down their running game. We held them to 78 yards on 22 carries. That’s pretty good defense.”

Three plays of minimal yardage and it looked as if the teams were to quickly exchange possessions, but a personal foul facemask penalty kept the drive alive for the Raiders. Lowe then hit Holland on the same slant pattern for a 35-yard gain to set up Southampton Academy with a 1st-and-goal situation. After two carries by Hill, Lowe snuck it over the goal line to extend the lead to 16-0.

“Andrew’s been tremendous, a real bright spot for us this year,” Marks said. “His throwing has been certainly above my expectations, and he’s been elusive, powerful and it’s hard to get a clean shot on him when he’s running the ball.”

Trailing by two scores, the state champs started a drive where it seemed like a touchdown was needed or the game would get out of hand quickly. It took three plays for the Eagles to answer that call, as quarterback Kyle Holland’s screen pass to receiver Christopher Rabil went for 60 yards and a streak to Thomas went for 30-yards and the score.

When it looked as if all of the momentum was shifting to the Eagles because of penalties, Lowe hit receiver Jalen Myrick for a 66-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 24-8. The Raiders then forced a fumble and recovered the ball on the ensuing kickoff, and Lowe punched it into the end zone three plays later to put the team up by three scores with just over four minutes left in the half.

“That was huge,” Marks said. “Anytime there’s a long play when the other team starts to get the momentum, it’s like deflating the wind out of their sails. It was big to be up by that much, especially since they scored before halftime.”

Rocky Mount answered with a seven-play drive to cut into the lead just before intermission, capped off with Thomas tossing a touchdown pass of his own on a jet sweep.

Feeling an increased sense of urgency, the Eagles switched to the no-huddle, hurry-up offense in the second half, and quickly push the ball down the field to close the gap. The scoring drive was highlighted by a 45-yard run by Rocky Mount’s Holland and a touchdown pass to receiver Trey Smelcer.

Although it finished without points, Southampton’s penultimate drive was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It began with eight minutes left in the third quarter and ended with just over nine minutes left in the game inside the Rocky Mount 10-yard-line. In the shadow of their own goal line, the Eagles were forced to run three-consecutive conservative plays to avoid a safety. The Raiders blocked the punt and scored one play later, as Lowe took the snap around the left side to extend the lead to 40-20 and start the celebration in the stands.

“We talk all the time about how the best defense is a ball-control offense,” Marks said.

Things got a little combative at the end of the game, as seven unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called in the waning minutes. Southampton Academy won the game nonetheless.

“It really got chippy out there,” Marks said. “I think the officials can go a long way in keeping a game from getting to that. We preach sportsmanship, but when you’re constantly getting your facemask pulled or hit and punched and it’s not being called, it can get frustrating. That’s why we made sure to pull those kids from the game and sit them on the bench so that they could cool down.”

Southampton Academy remains undefeated this season and keeps even with St. David’s School in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Colonial Carolina Conference standings. Conveniently, the two teams play at Southampton Academy’s Pillow Field on Friday night at 7 o’clock.

Rocky Mount, meanwhile, suffered its second defeat of the season after finishing last year unscathed.

“It’s going to be a real test,” Marks said. “They don’t use as many sets as other teams we’ve played, and they’re a little bit predictable because of that, but they have a nice quarterback and receiver. After last night, we have to sure up our secondary coverage, but I think we’ll be able to exploit them on offense, too.”