Unbeaten NJ blanks Gators
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on October 30, 2005 2:13 AM
KENLY -- North Johnston's defense held Spring Creek to just 10 yards of total offense and four first downs as the Panthers improved to 10-0 overall for the first time in school history with a 31-0 win at home over the Gators.
North Johnston, which posted its second straight shutout and hasn't allowed more than 14 points in a game all season, improved to 4-0 in the Class 1-A Carolina Conference heading into next Friday's showdown at Ayden-Grifton with the league title at stake.
Blanked for the first time this season, Spring Creek (5-5 overall) fell to 2-2 in Carolina play as the Gators travel to North Duplin in their regular season finale next Friday. Even with N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff seeding on the horizon, Spring Creek coach Roy Whitfield isn't be looking that far ahead.
"These kids are resilient, and they know what's at stake. But we aren't going to talk about playoffs next week," Whitfield said. "We've got North Duplin. It's not a county rival, but it's real darn close."
The Gators battled with the Panthers in a scoreless first quarter that saw Spring Creek punt on its first two possessions, while North Johnston also punted on its first drive. Keyed by a pair of fourth-down conversions by the Panthers --one on a 20-yard pass from Josh Wentz to Willie Smith and the last on a critical offsides penalty by the Gators inside the five -- North Johnston posted its first score on a 1-yard plunge by Wentz with 8:33 left in the half.
Spring Creek lost the first of two fumbles on its next possession, then the Panthers responded with an 8-play, 58-yard drive -- capped by a 41-yard toss from Wentz to Brandon Sanders down the left sideline. Garrett Stancil's extra point made it 14-0 with 2:18 left.
After two Gator rushing plays went for negative yardage and one incomplete pass, the punt snap from the 28-yard line sailed high over Spring Creek punter Wes Denham, then rolled into the end zone. North Johnston's Dutch Olliver rushed back to fall on the loose ball for the final score of the first half.
"It was 0-0 after the first quarter, then they punched one in. Then they got two more touchdowns, and we couldn't move the ball," Whitfield said. "That's the first time that's really happened all year. Our defense was on the field way too long. We just couldn't do the things we've been doing the last nine ball games.
"North Johnston has the total package."
Spring Creek recovered a fumble on the Panthers' first drive of the second half but went three-and-out following the change of possession and punted it back to North Johnston. The home team responded with a 9-play, 52-yard drive keyed by hard running by Wentz and Tonnie Cooper, who combined for 124 of North Johnston's 206 yards on the ground. Willie Pearce capped the drive with a 9-yard scamper around the right side.
Stancil tacked on the extra point, then added a 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to push the score to its final margin.
The Gators, who had nine plays that went for zero yards or less, were led on the ground by Ricky Mason's 40 yards. Spring Creek quarterback Josh Wright failed to complete a pass on nine tries with one interception. Wright was under pressure on several of his attempts and had a pair of dropped passes by his receivers.
Spring Creek was held a whopping 260 yards under its season average offensively.
"It's been our defense all year long. They are the reason we are where we are right now," North Johnston coach Ken Avent said.
The shutout was the Panthers' second in a row.
Meanwhile, North Johnston's power running game and 4-for-5 passing by Wentz helped the Panthers post 292 yards of offense on 59 plays (4.9 yards per play). The lone dark spot on the Panthers' effort proved to be penalties as North Johnston was flagged 10 times for 75 yards.
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