Northside is just getting started

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2016

PINETOWN — Northside knew it could accomplish something special this season. With the majority of its starters returning, and some additions up front, the Panthers were capable of making a splash in the 1-A Coastal Plains Conference.

That’s exactly what they did. They finished 7-4 overall and 3-2 in the league, tying Southside and Jones Senior for second place. It was right about where coach Keith Boyd pegged the team to finish back in August.

“I think we said we wanted to be 8-3 and no worse than 6-5,” he said. “We kind of hit it right in the middle. There were a couple we left out there that, if we had played a complete game, we could have surpassed the eight (wins). We’re taking seven wins as very successful around here.”

A seven-win regular season is a good mark for just about any football program, but even more so for a Northside club that has historically struggled. The stellar season earns the Panthers their first trip to the postseason in two years.

They hope their success can continue on into the playoffs.

After starting 4-0, the Panthers rallied from a mid-season skid that saw them drop three games in a row. They lost their last two non-conference games — a trip to Riverside and homecoming against a 2-A team in North Pitt — and then lost their league opener against Southside.

They bounced back with back-to-back wins on the road. They beat Pamlico County, then earned a hallmark win over Jones Senior on Oct. 21. Defeating the Trojans allowed them to earn a share of second place, behind the juggernaut that is East Carteret.

“We’ve faced spread, we’ve faced wing-T, and just about anything you could possibly see,” Boyd said of the experience Northside has earned through its schedule. “… At this point in time, you’ve put in about everything you can put in. A little tweak here and there, and you line up and play.”

The Panthers had a stout upperclassmen corps coming into their campaign. Offensively, Jackson Midgette and James Barrow led the charge. Matthew Marslender, Tyrece Taylor and others left their mark, too.

The senior duo of Taylor and Rhys Alligood spearheaded the defensive effort. The two plagued opposing offenses with their abilities to get into the backfield. Junior linebackers Parker Boyd and Cameron Cahoon also stepped up to round out a formidable front seven.

Boyd expected the defense’s strengths to be in the trenches. Much to his delight, the secondary excelled, too. Sophomore Johnathan Clark burst onto the scene early in the season, and finished the season with a team-best four interceptions. Midgette and Chris Slade also performed well in defensive back roles.

“Johnathan being a sophomore, in the first four games especially, he really helped solidify (the secondary) for us,” Boyd said. “Other than that, with the experience we had coming back, we were expecting most of these guys to elevate, which they have.”

Northside eagerly awaits its playoff draw. It knows it will host a first-round game, but isn’t sure who the opponent will be yet. This is where the Panthers enter unchartered waters, as even the seniors have very little playoff experience.

Regardless, Boyd said the team has been fighting for certain things throughout the season. He isn’t too concerned with the lack of postseason experience.

“Some of these games we’ve played in the regular season have had a playoff feel,” he said. “You’ve got to get this win to get the seeding that you want in the playoffs. So, we’ve kind of talked about it and put some pressure on ourselves in certain games.”

It didn’t even take a month for the Panthers to double their win total from last season. They’ve accomplished a lot this season, but not a one of them is satisfied yet.