By Mike Powell
Shelby, NC – It was the classic case of a No. 1 seed coming out flat against a No. 16 seed Friday night at Sid Blanton Stadium.
Not so much that Crest overlooked Erwin, rather the Chargers seemed emotionally drained after beating Kings Mountain last week to clinch the Big South 3A Conference championship.
Meanwhile, the upstart Warriors (5-7) of the Western Mountain Athletic Conference executed their game plan early on both sides of the football and scooted to a 14-0 lead in front of a stunned Crest home side.
Crest recovered sufficiently to score early in the second quarter and went into the half trailing 14-7.
In the second half, the Chargers looked more like the team that had won seven straight and stormed to the league title, putting 28 points on the scoreboard in the third quarter and winning 42-14 in a game that was closer than the score indicated.
Crest’s tenth win of the year, the program’s first 10-win season in four years, sends the Chargers into the second round of the 3A playoffs against West Rowan, which advanced with a 10-point decision over Freedom.
“My thoughts were that they’re playing much harder than we were,” Crest coach Nick Eddins said of his team’s sluggish start. “We came out kind of flat, but we took control in the second half. We exploded in the third quarter like I knew they could.”
T.J. Ruff’s 8-yard touchdown run three minutes into the second quarter triggered a run of 42 unanswered points by Crest.
Ruff, a wingback who often takes direct snaps from the wildcat formation, rushed for 181 yards on 12 carries and scored four touchdowns, the most spectacular of which was a 75 yard burst late in the third quarter.
Jalin Graham, held in check in the first half by the inspired Erwin defense, found more running room in the second half and finished with 114 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Graham finished off Crest’s 42-point flurry early in the fourth with a 25-yard catch and run on a pass from sophomore quarterback D.J. Fuller.
Turning point: Defensive adjustments at halftime enabled Crest to put more pressure on Erwin sophomore quarterback Jared Penland on his rollouts, and the Crest defensive backs switched from zone to man coverage. So effective on slant passes to his receivers early in the game, Penland was forced to make tough throws in the second half and was ineffective.
“Our defensive staff did a good job at halftime and the kids responded,” Eddins said. “We went to more man and put some pressure up in their faces, and it worked.”
Notes: The win marked the twenty seventh straight year that Crest has opened the playoffs with a victory … The Chargers also handed their head coach his third playoff win against two losses during his tenure at the school … Erwin quarterback Penland completed seven of his first eight passes, two of which went for touchdowns. However, after that early success, Penland completed only seven of his next 24 attempts.