Stepping Up: National championship reminds of timely surprises

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Georgia looked to be halfway home to a national championship Monday in Atlanta. Playing in front of a Bulldog-friendly crowd, Georgia led Alabama 13-0 at halftime. Of course, no two-possession lead is safe against a team like the Crimson Tide.

But it was the surprising entry of true-freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa that tipped the game in the favor of Alabama. The 19-year-old Hawaiian masterminded a comeback that nearly won the Crimson Tide the title in regulation. He nailed a 7-yard touchdown pass while on the run to knot the game at 20-20 with 3:21 left. Then he positioned Andy Pappanastos for a 36-yard field goal, but the kick was missed.

No worries. Tagovailoa, immediately after getting sacked in overtime, threw a 41-yard bomb to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith to win the game and the championship for Alabama.

It was masterful. Everything about Tagovailoa’s half of football left many spectators wondering why he hadn’t been starting. Jalen Hurts had done well managing the Tide’s offense en route to the championship game. The mobile quarterback’s biggest play Monday was a 31-yard run.

It’s not exactly typical of Alabama to have a playmaker of Tagovailoa’s magnitude under center. Rather, the Tide relies on running to grind opponents to dust and on its defense.

The way Tagovailoa entered and immediately took control reminded me of some things I’ve seen covering two-plus seasons of football in Beaufort County.


Demetrius Ebron as wildcat quarterback

Jeff Carrow said repeatedly heading into Southside’s first-round playoff game against Northside that little would change; the Seahawks, despite stumbling in the regular season, would continue with the system they’d been using all season long.

That turned out to be Carrow keeping his cards close to his vest. He rolled out new offensive schemes that featured senior receiver Demetrius Ebron as a wildcat quarterback. Ebron took snap after snap, using his athleticism and playmaking vision to collect a game-best 114 rushing yards against the Panthers.

Junior Will Warren had shown all season long that he could run the offense and make plays with his arm. His favorite target was Ebron. It just so happened that Southside’s offense didn’t call for enough passing, and Ebron would be better utilized as a threat to run from under center.

The new wrinkle worked as Ebron set the table for both of Southside’s first-quarter touchdowns en route to a 20-0 win.

Matthew Marslender tests the air pressure of the football during a preseason practice last summer.

Matthew Marslender previews his senior season

Matthew Marslender had been a known playmaker on the backend of Northside’s defense. He was an anchor for the Panthers as a junior in 2016. As backup to Jackson Midgette, though, he didn’t see much time on the offensive side of the ball.

The starting job was Marslender’s to lose this season after Midgette graduated. He had the confidence of head coach Keith Boyd and the staff, which is to be expected after a few years of learning the offense.

Marslender gave Panther fans a taste of what was to come late in his junior season. Hosting Jones Senior battled back to tie the Oct. 21, 2016 game. Marslender briefly relieved Midgette and, with 40 ticks left in the fourth quarter, ripped off a 43-yard run for the go-ahead touchdown in a 20-12 win.


Khyric McCloud, Sherfield Smith make a splash for Pam Pack

Many of Washington’s defensive woes over the past two or three seasons can be traced back to its defensive line. From a size standpoint, the Pam Pack struggled to stack up against a number of its opponents this past season. That made stopping the run a tall order.

They alleviated that problem a bit when they brought up sophomores Khyric McCloud and Sherfield Smith. Each weighs in at over 250 pounds, according to Washington’s roster, and added needed size in the trenches.

The result was the Pam Pack being able to neutralize the ground assault of opponents like Kinston and West Craven. Of course, being varsity rookies, the sophomore duo wasn’t as effective late in games. That allowed Kinston to narrowly escape Washington with a 21-12 win.

Still, Smith and McCloud were important to the progress Washington made this season and will be key components moving forward.