Top 10 Stories 2016: Southside makes back-to-back semifinal appearances

Published 8:03 pm Monday, December 26, 2016

The Southside Seahawks rise to football dominance, and narrowly missing a ride to the state championship, is the Washington Daily News’ Top 10 story for the year.

In 2015, Southside football completed its most prolific season in about a decade. A senior-laden group featuring quarterback Johnny Sullivan, running backs Lawrence Brown and Matt Baxter, and an experienced offensive line in front of them fuelled the engine that propelled them to the 1-A eastern regional championship.

They came up short in a 17-12 loss to Plymouth, which went on to win the 1-A state championship. The Seahawks had a returning, younger defensive corps to look forward to, but needed to rebuild much of the offense that was integral to that success.

This season didn’t look like a rebuilding year at all, though. Head coach Jeff Carrow and his exceptional staff stuck to their proven schemes, and many players who were backups stepped up in big ways.

There was no drop off. Southside made it all the way to an almost poetic semifinal rematch with the Vikings, only to lose by five points again. The end result surely wasn’t what the Seahawks were hoping for, but the journey there was remarkable.

Southside looked good in the early weeks of the season. The season opener at North Duplin was postponed due to weather. The Seahawks were able to escape with a 28-23 win on the road. Facing a short turnaround, they improved to 2-0 by blanking Dixon, 22-0, in their home opener.

A meeting with rival Northside highlighted the third week of the season. The Panthers had a ton of returning starters. The Seahawks turned the ball over thrice and allowed 119 rushing yards to James Barrow in their first loss of the season.

They turned around and took a stacked Riverside team down to the wire four days later. The Knights were able to hang on for a 26-20 overtime win. The two-game stretch marked Southside’s only losing streak of the season. The Seahawks were shut out by conference powerhouse East Carteret in a televised contest with the Mariners, and narrowly fell to another one of the league’s best squads in Jones Senior.

The Seahawks were able to avenge their loss to Northside. The two teams met again on Oct. 6 in the Anchor Bowl. The first game was a non-conference meeting, but Southside was able to win, 22-6, when league standings were on the line.

Southside wrapped up the regular by decimating Lejeune and Pamlico County — both on the road — by a combined 124-12 margin.

The offense was firing on all cylinders heading into the first-round playoff game against a South Creek team the Seahawks beat 41-16 nearly two months earlier. It had to lean on its defense the second time around, though. The Cougars bottled up Southside’s ground attack, but the defense pitched a shutout in an 8-0 win. The talented secondary came up with a pair of interceptions to spark what was an incredible playoff run for the entire unit.

The Seahawks moved the ball much better in the second and third rounds. Zikijah Crawford torched KIPP Pride’s defense for 260 yards the team’s second-round win. He ran for another 241 yards against Northampton County the next week, and Brandon Sullivan scored twice in the 39-12 win.

On paper, it wasn’t the same high-powered offense Southside had a year ago, but the results weren’t any different. For the most part, the offense got what it wanted, while the defense was stingy and forced timely turnovers.

Just like that, the Seahawks found themselves on a bus heading out to Plymouth with a trip to the state championship on the line. The game was as close as could be. A special-teams blunder set up the game’s only touchdown, and a heads-up play by Viking punter Jose Castenada prevented Southside from drawing even.

Playing for a state championship would have been incredible, but the two-year span Southside has put together has been special in and of itself.