Northside wins on homecoming for first time in 12 years

Published 12:25 am Saturday, October 7, 2017

PINETOWN — Northside had been talking about it since a 3-point loss at Riverside two weeks ago. It burned in the back of the Panthers’ mind while idle last week. They focused internally, working on fundamentals — anything and everything that could turn close losses into wins, really.

WATCH: Northside coach Keith Boyd’s post-game interview

All the Panthers had to do was go out and do their job when they hosted South Creek for homecoming Friday. They did that and more. Northside’s defensive pressure spearheaded a 14-8 win over its 1-A Coastal Plains Conference foe.

Moreover, it marked the first Northside homecoming win in 12 years.

PHOTOS: Northside homecoming vs. South Creek

“We’ve lost two really close games. To finally come up on the right end of one is very rewarding for the kids,” head coach Keith Boyd said. “I’m kind of at a loss for words. I’m so proud of them.”

Northside’s defense made stand after stand, hampering a versatile Cougar offense featuring many capable athletes. When they needed it most, the Panthers forced a three-and-out to take over in South Creek territory with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter.

Big plays were hard to come by. Both sides oftentimes had to settle four a few yards per play, but Panther quarterback and newly-crowned homecoming king Matthew Marslender rolled out of the pocket and ran to the right for a pickup of 17 yards.

Johnathan Clark ran for another 10-yard gain to put Northside in scoring position. Fullback Cameron Cahoon, who had been the team’s workhorse all night long, was rewarded with a 4-yard touchdown that put the Panthers ahead, 14-8, with 2:25 left to play.

“We trade him in and out. We use him as a blocking back,” Boyd said of Cahoon. “Ray (Freeman) tweaked his ankle. Because Cam takes a lot of reps in practice, it was just plug another guy in.

“He did a very good job. We’re just very fortunate to stay the course.”

Cougar quarterback Jahkene Clark looked to the air as the clock was working against him. The Panther secondary kept him at bay. The best look he had was a perfect spiral on a shot to the end zone that was just a yard or two in front of his receivers.

Then senior cornerback Tyree Blount came up with the interception that sealed Northside’s third win of the season.

It was a defensive duel for the majority of the first half. Northside and South Creek exchanged punts on their respective opening drives. The Panthers’ stagnant offense early on was less a product of being off last week and had more to do with the talented defensive line opposite them.

“They’re so darn good front,” Boyd said. “(South Creek coach Will Harrell) had them prepared. They were stronger than we were up front and it showed all night long. They hung in there and found a way to get it done.”

The Panthers looked like they were able to stall out again late in the first half. They recovered a fumble with 5:53 left, but faced third-and-11 after an illegal shift. Clark was able to rumble for 18 yards to convert on fourth-and-9 and put Northside at the Cougar 11.

Marslender finished the drive off after picking up a botched snap and going around the right side for an 11-yard score. Cahoon pushed through for the 2-point conversion that gave Northside an 8-0 lead at intermission.

South Creek received the kickoff to begin the second half, but still struggled against the pressure being brought from the likes of Parker Boys, Tyreck Brown and Zakkai Wilson.

The Cougars finally broke through early in the fourth quarter. Clark hit Tyrese Purvis over the middle to move the chains on fourth-and-7. He then found Zikeyai Cherry on a 4-yard touchdown connection on fourth-and-goal.

Northside leveled its 1-A Coastal Plains record at 1-1, but faces its toughest challenge of the season at home against top-ranked Tarboro next week.