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WILMINGTON—Having fumbled twice inside Ashley’s 10 in the first half, the West Brunswick Trojans got a chance to redeem themselves in the fourth quarter of their football game on a rainy Friday night at Ashley.
Leading 14-10 and with possession of the ball at its 31 with 7 minutes, 37 seconds left, West Brunswick ran its offense the best it has all season—twice converting on fourth-and-1—to run out the clock and beat the Screaming Eagles.
The victory improved coach Jimmy Fletcher’s team to 2-1 in the conference, 4-3 overall.
Before the pivotal drive, Fletcher talked to his offense.
“I said, ‘Look, guys, we get three or four first downs and it’s over,’” he said. “And they did a great job. They knew what was coming, but our kids did a great job of blocking them. I’m proud of them.”
What helped the drive succeed was the backfield blocking of junior defensive end Alfy Hill (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and junior lineman Jayman Johnson (5-11, 250). They helped lead the way for Brown as he carried the ball eight times in the drive.
“Last week we tried to run power twice on fourth-and-1 and didn’t get it,” Fletcher said. “So we changed it a little bit this week and put Jayman and Alfy back there. And, of course, it worked out this week.”
Five straight runs by Brown left West facing a fourth-and-1 at the Ashley 41 with about 4:30 left. Quarterback Ryan Hill, on second and third efforts, made first down by about the size of biscuit.
The second fourth-and-1 came at the Ashley 18 with 2:26 left. Brown ran behind the left side of his line for the first down. West then ran out the clock for the victory.
Brown carried the ball eight times in the drive for 35 yards.
“I told him, ‘Charlie, it’s yours,’” Fletcher said. “You got to get us some first downs, and he did. He’s a great person to have on your team.”
“They kept fighting back,” Fletcher said about Ashley. “We had some opportunities in the first half and didn’t capitalize. I knew those things come back and haunt you. And it did in the second half. But I give our kids credit. They fought for 48 minutes.”
West’s defense set up the Trojans’ first score. A jarring tackle by Brown led to an Ashley fumble. Isiah Willams recovered the ball at the Trojans’ 22 with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Three plays later, from the 29, Maverick Pate broke loose from the left side and ran 70 yards to the Ashley 1. On the first play of the second quarter, Brown followed Johnson’s block and scored. Corey Bell’s point-after kick put West ahead 7-0.
West’s second score followed a similar pattern. West’s defense forced a punt—after Alfy Hill had sacked the quarterback for an 11-yard loss to the 39. Hill then blocked the punt. Dylan Bowman scooped up the ball and ran to the 7.
“The way the wind was blowing, and it was raining, we were hoping (for a block),” Fletcher said. “We kind of move Alfy around so they can’t say he’s going to line up (at the same spot).”
On the next play, and in the same formation that was used for West’s first score, Brown scored. Bell’s kick gave West a 14-0 lead with 8:53 left in the half.
“Our front seven is playing as good as I’ve ever had since I’ve been here. Ted King played great tonight. Alfy plays great, Dylan Bowman, Isiah Williams—they did a great job. They have played well in every ballgame.”
Complementing those linemen were linebackers Pate, Brown, junior Jay Gause, junior Montel Mcatee and junior Kendrick Morgan.
West had two more chances to score in the half, but both times fumbled, once by Pate at the Ashley 7, with 6:28 left, and the other time by Brown at the Ashley 4, with 70 seconds left.
“I really got on them,” Fletcher said about his halftime meeting. “I felt we let them stay in the ballgame. I felt it should be 28-0. I got on them hard. When we have opportunities to score, we got to score. We don’t put people away very easily. When we get a chance, we got to do that.”
And Fletcher’s worst fears were realized in the third quarter. A high snap from center on a punt led to an Ashley first down at the West 32 and an eventual 27-yard field goal. The Screaming Eagles then scored on their second possession, and that cut the lead to 14-10 with 1:43 left in the quarter.
But West’s defense forced an Ashley punt after its first possession in the fourth quarter, and the Trojans took over at their 31 with 7:37 left.
The Screaming Eagles never got back the ball as West ran out the clock.
The rain and wind forced the Trojans to change their offense.
“We had a different game plan for tonight,” Fletcher said. “We were going to do some totally different stuff. Once it was like that (with the rain), we just said we were going to pound it.
“Our offensive line, coach Surigao and those coaches have done a great job with those guys. I think we controlled the line of scrimmage. If we do that, we’re going to win.”
Among those on the line were Aaron Zettlemoyer, Will McKeithan, James Johnson, Jamonte Powell, Jacob Haley, King, Bowman and Morgan.
The Trojans are beginning to show the confidence Fletcher has had in them since August.
“I told them before the game, ‘Guys, we have a chance to do something special.’ I think we’ve gotten a little better every week.”
Unofficially, Pate finished gained 101 yards on 12 carries. Hill gained 48 on 12 carries. Mcatee gained 33 on five carries. Brown gained 66 on 12 carries with two touchdowns.
Ashley stopped a two-point conversion in the final minute and beat West Brunswick 20-19 in the junior varsity game Oct. 9.
Ashley scored on its first play, a 65-yard run. West’s Billy Bopst blocked the extra point.
West scored on its next possession on a 1-yard run by Justin Bland. The score was set up by Taylor Buffkin’s kickoff return to the Ashley 41. Bland carried all four times on the drive. Cameron Smith’s kick put West ahead 7-6 with 7:44 left in the quarter.
West then scored on its first play in the second quarter, a fourth-down pass of 36 yards from Smith to James Ash, and that gave the Trojans a 13-12 lead.
Bopst recovered a fumble to end one Ashley drive, but the Screaming Eagles scored on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 57.7 seconds left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Trojans’ Andrew Van Cobb intercepted a pass to end an Ashley drive, but Ashley later scored on a 1-yard run after completing a long pass. The two-point conversion put the Screaming Eagles ahead 20-13 with 5:01 left.
West began its final drive at its 43 with 4:53 left. Smith completed a 32-yard pass to Lindsay Hankins—hit by two defenders—to keep alive the drive with about 2:15 left. On fourth down, Smith completed a pass to Buffkin to the 13 for a first down. On the next play, Bland scored on a run to the right with 60 seconds left. Ashley then stopped the two-point conversion. The onside kick went out of bounds, and Ashley ran out the clock for the victory.
West’s next game is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Laney (1-1, 2-4). Last Friday the Bucs beat New Hanover 10-7 on a last-minute field goal.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.