TAR HEEL – It was a tale of two halves Friday night, but West Bladen’s dominant 1st half performance was overcome by Fairmont’s explosive passing game in the 2nd half as the Tornadoes escaped with a 34-30 victory.
The Knights held a 196-22 edge in total yards at halftime, but a couple of West Bladen miscues presented the Tornadoes with short fields – Fairmont only had to traverse 33 total yards on their two 1st half scoring drives.
The Tornadoes recovered a Knight fumble of the opening kickoff at the West Bladen 23 yard line and only needed 4 plays to find the end zone. Junior Derrick Baker scampered 16 yards with a swing pass from sophomore Ty-Rus Morris then darted 14 yards with another swing pass for the touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
The Knights answered with a 70-yard drive that consumed 9 plays. Junior quarterback Devon Strange began the march with a 13-yard run. Sophomore Gary Parker dashed 12 yards, and senior Kendall Johnson battered the right side for 15 yards.
Sophomore Hunter Elks scooted 18 yards for a 1st down, and Parker picked up 8 more. Pernell Hooper bulled 6 yards, before Parker outran the defense to the right pylon on a 4-yard TD run. Johnson rammed through the line for the 2-point conversion and an 8-6 Knight lead at the 5:11 mark.
After a 24-yard burst by Baker, the Knight defense regrouped and sacked Morris on consecutive plays. Knight linebacker Wadeyn Norris pounced on a Morris fumble at the Fairmont 37 yard line. A late hit penalty pushed the Knights back, but they responded with a 52-yard scoring drive in 8 plays.
Junior Damarius Robinson ignited the drive with a 9-yard run, and junior Kaiden Stanley caught an 8-yard pass from Strange. Parker gained 10 yards, and Elks added 6. On 4th down Elks scooted right, cut back through a crease and sped 20 yards for a touchdown that padded the Knight lead to 14-6 as the 1st quarter ended.
An onside kick by the Knights was recovered by Johnson at the West 46 yard line. However the Tornado defense held then returned a blocked Knight punt to the West Bladen 10 yard line. Senior Jahkeem Moore snared a 3-yard touchdown pass from Morris to slice the West lead to 14-12.
The Tornadoes blocked the next Knight punt, but the West defense held as Robinson sacked Morris on 4th down for a 12-yard loss. West Bladen responded with a 67-yard drive in 11 plays.
Johnson powered through the line for 15 yards, but the drive appeared to be stalled when Strange found Elks streaking down the right sideline for a 51-yard pass play. Two plays later Parker scored standing up from a yard out. Johnson plowed into the end zone for the conversion and a 22-12 halftime lead.
“I thought we came out very physical and strong in the first half,” said Knight Coach Jon Sherman. “We had some mistakes in punt protection that gave them short fields but that is on me. We will correct that.”
Fairmont opened the 2nd half with a 63-yard scoring drive in 8 plays twice converting 4th downs with big pass plays from Morris to Moore – one for 24 yards, then another for 34 yards and a touchdown. Moore ran the conversion that shrunk the Knight lead to 22-20.
A Javonta Matthews interception ended the next Fairmont possession, and the Knights marched 39 yards to the Tornado 38. Elks scampered 23 yards, and Hooper reeled off runs of 9 and 5 yards. Robinson picked up 7 more, but the Knights were stopped on downs.
Fairmont responded with a 67-yard drive in 8 plays. Senior Quamel Pittman made a juggling catch of a 32-yard pass from Moore who had moved to quarterback that ended the 3rd quarter. Moore scrambled for gains of 12, 15 and 5 yards before hurling a 24-yard pass to Pittman. Baker darted 4 yards for the touchdown and a 26-22 Fairmont lead.
After stopping the Knights on downs, Fairmont covered 38 yards in 2 plays. Moore threw a 34-yard pass to Christopher Stevenson, and Baker carried 4 yards for the touchdown. Moore flipped a conversion pass to Collen Taylor to push the lead to 34-22 with 6:47 remaining.
Back came the Knights with a 75-yard drive in 9 plays. Strange dashed around left end for 25 yards, and Elks broke loose again for 33 yards. Junior Keshawn Ballard made a diving catch of a tipped pass from Strange for a 17-yard touchdown. Parker ran the conversion to pull the Knights to within 34-30 with 4:13 left.
After a 30-yard run by Baker, the Knights stopped Fairmont on downs at the West Bladen 28 yard line with 1:25 on the clock, but couldn’t mount another scoring threat.
Elks led the Knight offense with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown on 8 carries and 3 receptions for 61 yards. Strange completed 5 of 19 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown and ran 4 times for 44 yards. Parker rushed 10 times for 30 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson carried 7 times for 26 yards.
Baker rushed 14 times for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 2 passes for 30 yards and another touchdown to lead Fairmont. Morris was 8 of 13 passing for 95 yards and 3 touchdowns. Moore caught 3 passes for 61 yards and 2 touchdowns, and completed 3 of 5 passes for 92 yards.
West Bladen held a 333-252 edge in total yards for the game but were outgained 230-127 in the second half. “We knew we needed to work on tackling coming into tonight,” said Sherman. “That is what we will be doing Monday and Tuesday is working on tackling.”
It was the opening game for the Knights who will travel to South Columbus Friday. Fairmont, now 1-1, will host East Bladen Friday.