By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 21, 2005 2:15 AM
By GABE WHISNANT
News-Argus Sports Writer
DEEP RUN -- On a night where the South Lenoir faithful honored coach Frankie Casey, who passed away in early July at the age of 51, the Blue Devils turned in the kind of opening-game performance that would have pleased the longtime Lenoir County coach and mentor.
After an evenly played first quarter, which saw Spring Creek take a 7-6 lead, South Lenoir posted 32 unanswered points stretching into the early stages of the fourth quarter on their way to a 46-14 win at home over the Gators.
The loss was Spring Creek's eighth straight dating back to last season, while the Blue Devils (1-0) -- under first-year coach Lee Atkins -- won their first season-opener since 1997.
"We did what we came to do. I was really pleased with the overall performance," Atkins said. "We didn't want to show a whole lot. We are a spread offensive team, but we're not quite where we want to be. A lot of people didn't think we could run between the tackles, but they were wrong.
"Tonight we just played old-fashioned football."
The Blue Devils' offense rushed for 290 yards on 37 carries with four touchdowns on the ground. Senior quarterback Brandon Rouse passed for two more scores, both coming in the first half. His second touchdown was a 40-yard strike to Dusty Murphy late in the second quarter, giving his team a 19-7 lead going into the locker room.
Under a full moon on a hot and humid Friday night, the Gator defense seemed to wear down against South Lenoir's rushing attack as the game continued. South Lenoir's Jamere Moore, who had a 79 yards on 12 carries, added a two-yard plunge in the third, while teammate Thomas Bradner scored on an end-around, around the left side to make it 32-7 with just under four minutes left in the third.
"First quarter ... they scored and we scored, and even at the end of the half I didn't think we were out of it," Spring Creek coach Roy Whitfield said. "We had to do some things in the second half, control the football and make some stops, and we didn't. My hats off to South Lenoir. They were well-prepared and improved from last year.
"We really didn't ever stop them."
Spring Creek (0-1) struggled with the center-quarterback exchange through the game as it fumbled four times and lost three of them. Blue Devil defender Justin Rogers picked up the Gators' final fumble early in the fourth quarter and rumbled 70 yards to cap the 32-point run.
"In the shotgun and even under center, we had some bad exchanges. You hope it doesn't happen, because we work on it every day, but it happened tonight," Whitfield said. "We've got a brand new center, and we've got to change our offense, so we are spreading it out some. It's going to happen every now and then."
Preceding the recovery and score, Spring Creek quarterback Josh Wright -- under pressure all night -- had just found senior wide receiver Lelo Burt for a 23-yard completion near the left sideline.
Wright, a junior, finished 7-for-21 with 113 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yard pass to Burt with 2:49 left in the fourth. Junior Rosewood transfer Ronnie Butler had a key block on the over-the-middle pass that made the score 38-14.
Burt had five catches for 71 yards, but had several deep-catch chances broken up by the South Lenoir secondary. On the ground, Spring Creek senior running back Ricky Mason had 66 yards on 11 carries, while Butler rushed six times for 24 yards. The Blue Devils' pressure up front led to Wright's 11 negative rushing plays as the Gators netted just 55 yards on the ground on 38 carries.
South Lenoir reserve Dorsey Leach emerged the fourth rusher to score and seventh Blue Devil overall to reach the end zone when he raced around the left side and found daylight on his way to an 80-yard run to cap the scoring late in the game.
Keyed by a 17-yard rush by Butler and a 35-yard jaunt by Mason, Wright and the Gators answered South Lenoir's opening score and long drive with a touchdown of their own in the first quarter. Facing third-and-goal at the 12, Wright scrambled to his right and found senior Bill Travis open in the end zone. Manuel Avila's extra point made it 7-6, giving Spring Creek its first and only lead of the game.
The Gators will look to get on track Friday when it faces the first of three Class 1-A Super-Six foes, Hobbton, in their home opener. South Lenoir entertains rival Kinston -- a Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference team -- in week two.
"I told them going into the fourth to build on some things for next week. We did some good things," Whitfield said. "Ricky made some good runs, and we did connect with Lelo in the fourth quarter. That's what we've got to do."
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