Pam Pack wins share of conference title

Published 12:07 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

MAD DASH: Senior running back Clinton Pope scurries 45 yards down the sideline for a touchdown on senior night. Washington cruised past North Johnston to win a share of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title.

MAD DASH: Senior running back Clinton Pope scurries 45 yards down the sideline for a touchdown on senior night. Washington cruised past North Johnston to win a share of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title.

Senior night in Choppy Wagner Stadium saw Jarquez Keyes score three times to lead Washington to a 34-7 win over the visiting North Johnston. The season-finale victory, paired with Beddingfield losing to Southwest Edgecombe, secures the Pam Pack a share of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Championship.

Washington graduated 24 players from a team that made a deep playoff run just a year ago. The coaches and players knew months ago that the road back to that success would be paved with plenty of challenges, but that never changed the end goals. Earning a share of the league title with a win in the last game of the season was a satisfying feeling.

“We’re excited. That’s three years in a row that they’re able to do it,” said head coach Sport Sawyer. “They work hard. Each year, you graduate players and everything. With our offseason workout, we expect no letdown. There’s a couple games that we had some ups and downs, but we expect to work hard and do what we’re supposed to do.”

The home side set a tone of aggression early on. Washington faked a punt and Keyes ran 19 yards for a first down. Facing a fourth-and-five situation just a few plays later, he ran it in from 13 yards out to draw first blood.

North Johnston punted the ball away early in the second period. Matt Black darted 75 yards on the return to set up shop at the Panthers’ nine-yard line. Keyes capitalized on the field position by striking again.

“He runs hard,” Sawyer said. “He’s got a physical body. He’s trained his body to run a lot and do things. He did a good job running tonight.”

Washington nearly took a three-possession lead just before halftime. The Pam Pack went for it on fourth-and-seven. Tripp Barfield found tight end Drew Ferguson over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown, but a flag negated it and cost them the down.

Three third-quarter scores secured the win for Washington. North Johnston received the kickoff to open the second half. A penalty, fumble and a sack set the Panthers back and forced a three-and-out. Washington’s first drive of the half only lasted one play, thanks to a 45-yard touchdown made by Clinton Pope.

The Panthers had been doing an admirable job of containing the Pam Pack’s offense. They addressed some things at halftime to make things run smoother after the break.

“We were slow on the edges,” Sawyer said. “We challenged the offensive line and guys to run harder and stay on their blocks harder. I think in the second half we were able to do some stuff.”

The Panthers turned the ball over on downs later in the period. This time, the ensuing drive lasted a pair of plays. Barfield connected with Black, who slid to make a 28-yard catch that put the Pam Pack in the red zone. Keyes hit pay dirt for a third time on a nine-yard run.

“It’s a great feeling, but I can always improve,” Keyes said, already looking toward Monday and the start of postseason preparations. “Mental focus and knowing our responsibilities. We’re a team. Every team is a link. You’ve got to be strong. Our weakest link hurts the whole team. We’ve got to keep improving.”

The coaching staff shared similar feelings. The Pam Pack was flagged quite a few times, especially in circumstances that allowed North Johnston to keep its drive alive.

“You always like wins,” Sawyer said. “I think you can tell by the tone that we were a little sloppy tonight. A win is a win. But, for what we want to accomplish and do, we’ve got to play a little bit better. At times, we kind of fluctuated tonight. We need to tighten up on that a little bit.

“There were a lot of penalties and frustration. We need to limit those. You can’t pick them up. You’ve got to keep going.”

Sharwan Stanton punctuated the third quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run immediately after an interception by Brandon Jackson.

Suae Poe led the offense with 104 rushing yards on just four carries. Pope amassed 99 yards on 14 carries. Keyes ran 10 times for 93 yards. Stanton picked up 23 yards on four carries.

Not only did the defense lend a hand in the form of field position, but it also kept the Panthers off the scoreboard for most of the contest. Trey Whitley was able to hit Matthew Griswold for a 34-yard touchdown and North Johnston followed that by recovering an onside kick. With just minutes left to play and Washington leading 34-7, the game was all but decided.

“The defense gets after it,” Sawyer said. “They’re able to stop plays and passes. We had a couple of breakdowns on some passes, but, overall, our defense gives us momentum time and time again. We’ve got to capitalize on that.”

The first objective come Monday’s practice is breaking down the film and addressing the sloppiness. The regular season is done with and now the Pam Pack sets their sights on what challenges are ahead.