Farmville Central spoiled North Johnston’s shot at a share of the Eastern Plains Conference championship with a 45-14 rout in the season finale.
The Jaguars scored 14 unanswered points after going ahead 14-7 after the first quarter to lead 28-7 at the half. Farmville Central (6-5, 2-3) limited opportunities for the Panthers early on with a grinding rushing attack that saw T.J. Willoughby carry 25 times for 182 yards – in the first half.
Willoughby finished with 248 yards rushing on 38 carries, including two first half touchdowns.
Farmville Central coach Scott Gardner said injuries throughout the season led to a running back rotation that has finally settled on Willoughby, who doesn’t mind being a workhorse.
“I asked him how he felt at halftime and he said ‘Keep giving me the ball,’” Gardner said.
Tyreke Tyson carried for 148 yards on 21 carries as part of a rushing attack that kept the clock moving and eventually coaxed the North Johnston safeties up enough for Jaguar quarterback Brad Shackelford to exploit the Panther secondary.
Gardner said his team has learned to finish games the hard way, having three leads slip away in the fourth quarter during a season that began with a season-opening win over defending 2A state runner-up Kinston.
“We ran it every time we wanted to run it,” he told his team, noting that the two passes Brad Shackelford threw were both caught for touchdowns after catching North Johnston unaware. “We chose to throw those.”
Panthers quarterback Trey Whitley connected on 6 of 21 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, but two drives ended with interceptions by Farmville Central’s Kiron Dixon.
North Johnston (7-4, 3-2) now awaits its playoff draw, and coach Jonathan Riba said what he saw down the stretch during the regular season finale showed the team is ready for the challenge of a new season.
“We’ve shown we can play with a team like that,” he said, noting an onside kick squeezed through two sets of Panther hands before harmlessly going out-of-bounds after his team scored to make it 28-14.
The loss will give his team something to look at on film, he explained, and something to seethe over before the postseason began.
“It defibrillated us,” Riba said. “It – bam! – knocked us into reality. Now we’re going to learn to defend and attack a team like that. They’re enjoying it. They’re having fun. Win or lose, that’s what I want.”