A few minutes after his team’s 29-12 loss to Southwest Onslow in the 2A playoffs, North Johnston football coach Jonathan Riba lined his seniors up on the goal line.
He stopped at each one of them, hugging and consoling the players who had just finished their high school football careers.
“It’s something we start at the beginning of the season with our seniors on Thursday after our practice,” he said. “We started in the other end zone, and each week we move up 10 yards. We talk about things and so forth. … By the time we got through, the tears stop crying so much. You realize people love you and that life’s going to go on.”
Southwest Onslow (7-5) advances to round two and a road date with Elizabeth City’s Northeastern High, a 48-12 winner over Midway.
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North Johnston (7-5) entered the playoffsout with its starting quarterback, Trey Whitley, who suffered an injury during practice earlier this week. The junior varsity starter, Camden Aycock, moved up a level and was impressive early.
After recovering a muffed punt early in the first quarter, North Johnston got on the board first with a 27-yard field goal from Ricardo Padilla.
The Stallions responded with a eight-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run by Jakoby Johnson, and the visitors led 7-3.
Aycock led the Panthers down field on the ensuing drive, picking up 25 yards on an option keeper before tossing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Suttles to put his team on top 10-7.
The Panthers added to their lead in the second quarter on a safety. A snap sailed over the head of Southwest Onslow punter Nick Barker head, and he had no choice but to fall on the football in his own end zone.
It looked like the score would be 12-7 heading into the halftime break, but the Stallions had other ideas.
After Johnson broke a 14-yard run to get Southwest Onslow to the 30-yard line, just 25 seconds remained in the second quarter.
Quarterback Deaje Foskey hit Robert Banks on a slant route, and the senior wide receiver did the rest. He broke several tackles before cutting up field and taking the short pass 70 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Stallions poured it on in the fourth.
Defensively, they picked off Aycock twice, and Johnson added a couple of touchdown runs to finish the night with three, to go along with his game-high 131 yards.
“It started three years ago when Coach (Ashley) Ennis first got here,” Riba said. “I was here with him, and we just built the last two years. This is kind of a byproduct of what’s been going on. I see it continuing. The administration’s great, the community’s great, we’re getting kids in the weight room, and I don’t have academic problems. I’ve got great kids and great people, and when you’ve got good kids and a good system, you can’t help but become successful.”