Firebirds fall short: Gryphons hang on for 28-26 win | The Enterprise
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Firebirds fall short: Gryphons hang on for 28-26 win

Posted on April 5, 2021

SportsSchool Sports
Southern Nash's Jalen McClaston (6) goes airborne to pull down an unsuspecting Elijah Battle of Rocky Mount during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash's Jalen McClaston (6) goes airborne to pull down an unsuspecting Elijah Battle of Rocky Mount during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Southern Nash's Jordan Vick (28) looks to cut back against a line of pursuing Rocky Mount defenders during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash's Jordan Vick (28) looks to cut back against a line of pursuing Rocky Mount defenders during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Southern Nash's Joseph Hernandez (1) fights for yardage as a Rocky Mount defender grabs his leg during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash's Joseph Hernandez (1) fights for yardage as a Rocky Mount defender grabs his leg during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Southern Nash's Jalen McClaston (6) goes airborne to pull down an unsuspecting Elijah Battle of Rocky Mount during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash's Jalen McClaston (6) goes airborne to pull down an unsuspecting Elijah Battle of Rocky Mount during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Southern Nash's Jordan Vick (28) looks to cut back against a line of pursuing Rocky Mount defenders during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash's Jordan Vick (28) looks to cut back against a line of pursuing Rocky Mount defenders during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

Southern Nash's Jordan Vick (28) looks to cut back against a line of pursuing Rocky Mount defenders during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.
Southern Nash's Joseph Hernandez (1) fights for yardage as a Rocky Mount defender grabs his leg during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.
Southern Nash's Jalen McClaston (6) goes airborne to pull down an unsuspecting Elijah Battle of Rocky Mount during Saturday's game at Southern Nash. The Firebirds lost 28-26.

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT

Untimely fumbles and a generous defense have been the two primary culprits for the Southern Nash High varsity football team’s struggles in this shortened spring season.

On Saturday’s rescheduled Senior Day against Rocky Mount, the defense rose to the occasion and kept the Firebirds in contention until the final whistle. But with a chance to thrust themselves into first place in the 3-A Big East Conference standings and the inside track at a sixth-straight league title, the staggering, costly giveaways did not abate.

Southern Nash lost the football twice inside the Rocky Mount 5-yard line, threw a second-half interception inside the Gryphon 25 and had a difficult special-teams miscue to precede a frantic fourth-quarter rally that fell short with a 28-26 defeat at Firebirds Stadium.

The Firebirds fell to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in Big East play, essentially falling out of contention for a postseason spot in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs. Rocky Mount improved to 5-1 and 4-0 in conference play, clinching the outright Big East championship on the basis of winning percentage with one week to play. With the Fike-Northern Nash game canceled, the Knights (2-1 Big East) cannot catch the Gryphons for the top spot with one week remaining in the regular season.

“We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win a game,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “Especially where we turned the ball over. When you’re going in twice for touchdowns, it’s tough. I don’t know what happened on the punt. I thought it was a perfect snap, and it gave them momentum. The kids played hard, and they’ve been through a lot.”

Southern Nash’s double-wing offense didn’t struggle to move the ball on the ground, amassing 291 yards in that department. The combination of junior Jackson Vick, freshman Jordan Vick and junior Sammy Gandy ran behind an offensive line that missed all but Monday, March 29, due to COVID-19 protocol.

Jackson Vick accounted for three total TDs, rushing 21 times for 134 yards, including a nine-yard burst that put the Firebirds up 6-0 in the first quarter. He later added a 41-yard dash that put the Firebirds up 14-0 with 4:04 until halftime.

But after senior defensive end Terence Raspberry fell on the first of his three fumble recoveries, Southern Nash moved the ball to the Rocky Mount 4-yard line on the strength of a 32-yard run by Jordan Vick.

Facing third-and-goal, Jackson Vick was stood up and lost the football at the line of scrimmage. Rocky Mount recovered the ball.

Southern Nash opted to attempt a fourth-and-4 on its side of the 50-yard line and was stopped short. That allowed Rocky Mount to halve the margin before halftime on a 15-yard toss from Stephon Jones to Deandre Lynch.

“We needed something good to happen before halftime,” Rocky Mount head coach Jason Battle said. “If they go in at the half up 14-0 coming out with the ball, a lot of momentum is in their favor. So that score before half was big for us.”

Indeed, the momentum gushed the Gryphons to open the third quarter. The Firebirds were stopped on four plays just inside Rocky Mount territory, allowing Jones to hit McKenly Hines out of the backfield for a 58-yard score to tie it.

Backed up to its own 15 on its next possession, Southern Nash sent out the punting unit, but an adequate snap was dropped and smothered six yards from the goal line. After a false start — one of 18 Rocky Mount penalties for 104 yards — Hines ran it in from 11 yards out to put the Gryphons up 21-14.

Another turnover from Southern Nash led to more Rocky Mount points. The Firebirds advanced the ball to the Rocky Mount 23 and threatened to tie, but Justin Terry intercepted for the Gryphons. Hines’ third score of the game from three yards away put Southern Nash in a 28-14 hole with 8:44 to go.

Arguably, the most painful giveaway from the Firebirds came on the following possession. Gandy got loose from the Rocky Mount 31-yard line and appeared on his way to score. However, the ball was knocked free on his way to the ground and meandered out of the back of the end zone.

One official signaled down by contact, and the Firebirds prepared to set up shop just outside the goal line. But after an extended discussion, the call was changed to a touchback. The officials’ conference was one of several huddles with regard to turnovers in the fourth quarter.

“I was confused with some of the things that was going on,” Foster said. “I shouldn’t say anything about calls, but it was just a confusing day all the way around.”

Rocky Mount had a chance to grind out the clock, but Raspberry pounced on his second fumble to give Southern Nash possession with 4:34 to play. That ended with Royal’s 11-yard pass to Jackson Vick to make it 28-20. Raspberry collected his third recovery after another conference by the officials, granting the Firebirds a potential game-tying drive at the 1:33 mark.

Turning his focus to offense, Raspberry plunged in from a yard away to climb within the final score with 16.8 seconds to go. However, on the two-point conversion, another give to Raspberry was stopped a yard shy of the goal line.

“Our kids are going to fight,” Foster said. “Regardless of who’s been at practice this week or how many coaches we have and who’s hurt. They’re going to show up to play, and I think that’s what we’re known for.”

Jordan Vick collected 19 carries for 79 yards, while Gandy had 76 yards on 11 totes.

Southern Nash concludes its regular season Friday at Franklinton.

“It should have been 21-0 at halftime,” Foster lamented. “We fumbled on our own 4, and it is what it is. When you get through, you can look back and say you’d do this different or that different. But in the moment, you do what you do.” 

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