Opinion - Youth challenges Goldsboro
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 24, 2011 1:47 PM
Overcoming early-season adversity has become just as much a staple of Goldsboro football in recent years as a dominant running game and deep playoff runs.
In each of the past two seasons, the Cougars have grown through those early struggles, captured two Carolina 1-A Conference championships and have played into late November.
Whether this Goldsboro team possesses that type of resolve remains to be seen.
The Cougars' roster was loaded with 19 seniors a year ago and experienced talent could be found at nearly every key position. Seniors Freddie Jones, Andre Montgomery and Jarran Reed were no strangers to big games. The trio led by example, and when they spoke, teammates listened.
Goldsboro overcame an uncharacteristic 0-2 start in 2010 that included a home loss in overtime to Eastern Wayne in Week 2. The Cougars rebounded by winning eight of their final nine regular-season games and reached the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-AA (large-school) playoffs.
Gone are the majority of those veteran leaders.
Goldsboro has just nine seniors this season. Jones and Montgomery weren't just one of the most successful running back tandems in program history. They were calming influences on wide-eyed underclassmen who can be easily overwhelmed by the rigors of a grueling season and the pressure that comes with playing under the bright lights of Friday nights.
The Cougars' success this season won't simply hinge on the ability to make plays on the field, but it will largely rely on the development of leaders capable of holding together a football team as it attempts to live up to a program's lofty standards.
Goldsboro's youth was noticeably visible in last week's 61-12 season-opening loss to New Hanover. The Cougars were outgained 434-222 and Goldsboro rushed for just 115 yards -- 80 yards came on one play.
Goldsboro averaged 269 yards a game on the ground last season and nearly 10 yards a carry. Against New Hanover, the Cougars averaged four yards a carry and had just one rush for more than 10 yards.
The inability to move the football on the ground left plenty of pressure on junior quarterback Julius Murphy. In the third varsity start of his career, Murphy completed 8 of 21 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Murphy looked comfortable in the pocket and routinely completed underneath passes, while the majority of his attempts to stretch the defense and connect with receivers down the field were overthrown.
The inexperience showed defensively for Goldsboro as well. New Hanover racked up eight plays that went for 20 or more yards. Wildcats' quarterback Bates Taylor torched the Cougars for 235 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Goldsboro visits an experienced Eastern Wayne team Thursday night, and still has non-conference opponents Charles B. Aycock, Southern Wayne and Red Springs on the schedule before beginning conference play.
Cougar teams of the past thrived on situations like the one Goldsboro will find itself in Thursday evening -- on the road, in a hostile environment against a county rival and the burden of responsibility that comes with representing a storied program squarely on its shoulders.
It's games like these that either make a young football team grow up fast or cower at the enormity of the moment.
Only time will tell how these Cougars respond.