North Johnston has turned good starts in its first two football games of the season into wins. The Panthers tried to do the same thing Thursday night against Nash Central, but the Bulldogs would not have any of it, grabbing a 43-18 nonconference victory.
North Johnston’s Tanner Gibson recovered a squib kick off Nash Central couldn’t handle to open the game, then the Bulldogs jumped offside before the first play from scrimmage.
But the Bulldogs turned that trend around quickly, stopping North Johnston on a fourth down attempt on that opening drive and scoring the game’s first three touchdowns, complete with matching two-point conversions.
Nash Central (2-1) gave up some yards to North Johnston, but only two scores.
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“I felt like we got after the ball,” said Nash Central coach Chris Lee. “(Whitley) is a great player, so we needed our front four to get after him and they did. We got a lot of people to the ball and were able to take away a lot of the read option they want to run when we got the lead.”
The result put an end to North Johnston’s best start since 2012.
“I think if we had played more consistently, it would have been a much different game,” said first-year North Johnston coach Jonathan Riba said. “I’m not saying we would have won, but it would have been a lot more competitive. We fought the whole game, which is a great trait to have.”
After North Johnston opened the second half with a solid touchdown drive — capped by a 15-yard TD connection between quarterback Trey Whitley and Jordan Aycock – to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-8, Nash Central reeled off the game’s next 19 points to take control.
Nash Central went up 30-8 on a 1-yard run by C.J. Pearce with 1:12 to play in the third quarter, then took advantage of a Kendall Winston interception and 50-yard return to set up a one-play, 11-yard TD drive. Central quarterback Travis Griffin rolled left and found Justus Locus open in the corner of the end zone for a 36-8 lead with 11:26 to play.
THREE TO WATCH
Vernon Whitaker, Nash Central: Somehow, he finished with just 78 yards rushing on 15 carries. But it sure seemed like he controlled the game with his running, scoring the game’s first two TDs.
It was his inside running work that was the basis for the Bulldogs’ early strategy.
“We thought we were a little more physical, bigger than they were so we wanted to use the power run early,” Lee said, “then set up the counter and pass game off of that.”
Sharquez Tillery, Nash Central: Tillery was the lightning in the Nash Central rushing attack. He scored on a 60-yard run in the second quarter and had a 45-yard run to help ice the victory, finishing with 140 yards on just eight carries.
Treshaun McPhatter, North Johnston: He was one of several North Johnston players who proved they belonged on the field with the bigger and faster Nash Central squad. He had two runs of 19 or more yards, including a 33-yard TD scamper.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Turnovers created by both teams on the night.
15: Points scored off of those turnovers by Nash Central.
0: Points scored off of their turnovers by the Panthers.
“Our defense made some plays,” Riba said. “They got us possession a few times, created some turnovers. The problem we had was they got more out of theirs (turnovers) than we got out of ours.”
4: Times North Johnston moved the ball inside of the Nash Central 35-yard-line on offense, but didn’t come up with any points.
“Sometimes we just get flustered,” Riba said. “They’re kids, kids who can get lost in the situation sometimes. We just have to learn to play through that. It’s a growing process.”
THEY SAID IT
The win gives Nash Central its first winning streak since the 2012 season.
“We talked a lot this week about dealing with success,” Lee said. “We wanted to make sure the guys didn’t get a big head. Winning a second game like this sows them that they can do this.
“We feel like we can compete with anybody on our schedule if continue to play as a team and stay grounded as a group.”