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Asheville blitzes Davie in Round 1

By Brian Pitts
Enterprise Record

The story of 2021 repeated itself again in the first round of the 4-A playoffs. Davie’s football team moved the sticks with regularity – it actually had more first downs than Asheville – and reached the end zone four times. But the visiting War Eagles were gashed over and over by the Cougars’ ground attack in 61-28 defeat Friday.
Yes, the offense – specifically the passing game – got going in the second quarter and held up its end. But both sides of the ball stumbled badly in the beginning, when Davie spotted Asheville 35 points.
The Cougars, who went 6-0 in the Western 3-A/4-A Conference, improved to 9-2 with their ninth straight victory. Davie, seeded 24th in the 32-team West Region, finished 6-5, while the No. 9 Cougars will host Mallard Creek in round two.
The War Eagles took a frightful beating for most of the first half. The Cougars took the opening kickoff and scored in nine plays, eight of which were running plays by running back Caleb Madden and quarterback Khalil Conley, who capped an 80-yard drive with a 5-yard sweep around left end.
On Davie’s second play from scrimmage, Alex Summers overthrew his target and Tre McGahee intercepted at the Davie 40 and returned it to the Davie 19. Asheville took advantage of the short field and went up 14-0.
Moments later, Summers was sacked and Palmer Williams felt heavy pressure on a punt that only traveled 16 yards to the Davie 33. Asheville converted another short field into seven points.
Now it was 21-0, at which point Davie had minus-14 yards and zero first downs. By contrast, Asheville had 137 yards, eight first downs and had not faced a third down.
Three plays after the deficit grew to 21, Summers, who entered the game second in the state in passing yards with only six picks in 10 games, was intercepted again on a pass intended for Zymere Hudson. Asheville took over at midfield and kept the ball for nine plays, the last seven of which were runs. It was 27-0 at this point and about to get worse.
Summers threw a swing pass to Tate Carney, who turned upfield and gained 15 yards to the Asheville 33. The ball popped out and Asheville recovered. Carney appeared to be down when the ball came out, but officials stuck with the fumble call, much to coach Tim Devericks’ chagrin.
On the next play, Conley went deep and hit the receiver in stride for a 59-yard TD, making it 35-0. This gave Asheville five TDs from five different guys.
Even though it was a night to forget, give the War Eagles credit for rising from the ashes. They would answer with 21 straight points.
Summers connected with Carney for 12 yards, with Hudson for 18 and with Za’Haree Maddox for 21, the latter a TD in which Maddox figuratively broke a defender’s ankles on a catch-and-run.
That’s where it stood at halftime, the spread 35-7 as Asheville’s possessions went TD, TD, TD, TD, TD, punt, end of half. The War Eagles had six possessions in the first 24 minutes, including three that resulted in turnovers. Their running game was nonexistent as Asheville held Carney to negative yards in the half.
But the passing attack exploded again and Davie courageously chopped 35-0 to 35-21.
Maddox’s 15-yard reception and Hudson’s 33-yarder pushed Davie deep into the red zone. Carney took three straight direct snaps and eventually scored from the 1.
Devericks ordered his second onside kick – the first was recovered by Asheville in the second quarter, but the Cougars didn’t go anywhere as Justin Hayes’ 9-yard sack led to one of their two punts on the night – and Williams executed it brilliantly. Kicking from the 40, the ball by rule has to travel 10 yards without a member of the kicking team touching it. When it reached the 50, Williams pounced on it. Summers and Maddox hooked up for 21 yards. Then Summers found Brodie Smith on a seam route for a 23-yard score.
Just like that, Davie was back in the game (35-21) with all kinds of time remaining (6:14 third quarter).
“That offense, when they snap the ball 90 times, it’s just a matter of time before they break a few,” Asheville coach Cort Radford said.
Davie’s rally was all the more impressive when you consider Asheville was only allowing 10.5 points a game.
Down two scores with over 18 minutes left, this was the moment of truth for Davie. Alas, it only took Asheville four plays to regain control. All four plays were runs, and they totaled 65 spirit-crushing yards as the Cougars made it 41-21.
After Davie turned it over on downs at its 35, Conley threw a 25-yard TD to Madden.
After Maddox and Smith had substantial catches, Carney scored from the 5 to pull Davie within 47-28. The problem: It took Davie 11 plays to move 60 yards, and the clock was down to 10:18 in the fourth quarter.
As it turned out, it was enough time for Asheville’s eighth and ninth TDs. Madden snapped off a 49-yard tackle-breaking TD run after Asheville recovered Williams’ onside kick, and tight end Jeremiah Jones caught an 8-yard TD pass after the War Eagles had a turnover on downs at their own 10.
While the Cougars put up their most points in 80 games (63-28 over Central Cabarrus in the first round of the 2014 playoffs), Radford seemed to get more joy from watching his defense force four turnovers and hold Davie to 3-for-12 on third-down conversions.
“We played really, really good on defense in the first half,” he said. “You don’t hear that a lot when you give up 28.”
With Madden rushing for 205 yards and Conley for 82, the Cougars averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Conley added 132 yards on 8-of-11 passing as Asheville averaged 8.5 yards per play and only faced five third-down situations all game.
Davie’s offense was uneven. Carney and Markel Summers only managed 26 rushing yards on 17 attempts between them. A. Summers recovered from a rocky start to finish 33 of 48 for 343 yards.
Maddox and Carney had eight receptions each, with Maddox surpassing 100 yards for the fourth time this season. Hudson (5-89) became a member of an exclusive club as a 1,000-yard receiver for the season. Smith and M. Summers had four catches each. Senior Owen Byers entered with three catches and matched that output in his final hour. Aidan Froelich had one catch.
Notes: Hudson entered the game in the top 10 in the state in receiving yards. … Davie had a season-low two penalties. … Two teams that Davie dispatched in the regular season are still alive. Dave beat West Rowan 56-30; the Falcons moved to 7-3 by winning 34-28 in overtime against North Lincoln. Davie beat Lake Norman 42-28; the Wildcats improved to 8-3 by winning 28-21 over Northern Guilford. … A. Summers, Carney, Maddox, Hudson and Williams left their mark in the record book, and their achievements will be listed next week.