12/09/07 — 1-A Championship: North Duplin falls to Plymouth

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1-A Championship: North Duplin falls to Plymouth

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 9, 2007 2:02 AM

RALEIGH -- Robert McCullen looked toward the scoreboard as the final seconds ticked away.

Brad Rhodes unsnapped his chinstrap and trudged toward the sideline.

Other members of North Duplin's football team walked off the field silently as Plymouth celebrated its first-ever state championship at midfield. A 35-year dream remained a fantasy for the Rebels, who were trying to win the program's first state crown since 1972.

Angelo Sharpless reeled in two first-quarter touchdown passes and the Vikings escaped 20-13 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A (small school) contest Saturday afternoon. Plymouth concluded the year with a perfect ledger (16-0 overall), while North Duplin endured its first defeat in 15 outings.

A Division I prospect in basketball, the 6-foot-4 Sharpless hadn't been a focal part of Plymouth's offense in the postseason. With Tobias Clagon and Dasheen Perry dominating opponents on the ground, Sharpless excelled on a defense which pitched three shutouts.

However, Perry got Sharpless involved on the fourth play from scrimmage. After three rushes put the ball inside the Rebels' red zone, Perry connected with Sharpless down the right sideline on a 23-yard, touchdown screen pass.

"The key was being able to throw the ball early," Vikings coach Robert Cody said. "We had not thrown the ball the last three or four games ... but when (Dasheen Perry) hit that first one and it turned into a touchdown, that really got us going."

Sharpless set up his second touchdown reception when he picked off North Duplin quarterback Alan Schilling. His 25-yard scoring strike from Perry put the Vikings in control 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.

'That first one (touchdown pass) was one of our bread-and-butter plays," said Sharpless, who was named the game's MVP after finishing with four receptions for 88 yards. "But the second one I really had to work for it. The guy had his hand on the ball, but he slipped and I came up with it."

Andre Mitchell's 9-yard touchdown run boosted Plymouth's lead to 20-0 midway through the second period. The Vikings owned a six-minute advantage in time of possession and led 224-76 in total offensive yards.

In addition to the interception, the No. 5-ranked Rebels punted on three possessions and turned another over downs just before halftime.

"We've been trying to control the ball all year," said North Duplin head coach Hugh Martin. "They do a good job of running through gaps and getting into places that can disrupt (your offense). Sometimes they came through places that really hurt us, especially during the first half.

"They did a good job sealing us off from the backside, which kept us from getting some of the runs we normally get."

North Duplin tightened its defense in the second half and limited No. 4-ranked Plymouth to just 74 yards. Linebackers Robert McCullen (10 stops) and Blake King (16 tackles), and lineman Buddy Grady (12 tackles) constantly shackled the Vikings' ball carriers.

"The first half was very frustrating," said McCullen, named the team's top defensive player for the game. "We played a hard-nosed football game. I knew that we could stop them and that our offense could come back and pull it out. I was hoping that was going to happen."

It nearly did.

Schilling recovered a blocked punt in the end zone early in the third period. After forcing the Vikings to punt again, Schilling directed a quick-scoring three-play drive.

Akeem Cox, who rushed for a game-high 102 yards, galloped down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain. Schilling's 9-yard carry set up Billy Mello's 2-yard touchdown plunge. The Rebels trailed 20-13.

"We didn't give up in the second half," said Martin. "A lot of teams would've given up, but we kept on fighting and gave ourselves a chance. But (Plymouth) did a great job of controlling the ball. When a team can do that, it gives you limited opportunities to put points on the board."

Plymouth held the ball for nearly nine minutes in the final period. The Vikings forced a three-and-out on the Rebels' first possession of the quarter. Kelly Chesson's interception ended McCullen and his teammates' championship hopes.