Special teams play could affect Rosewood-Princeton outcome
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on November 16, 2012 1:48 PM
Whether its a momentum-changing kick return, a costly missed extra point or what appears to be a routine punt that alters field position, the true value of special teams is not often felt until they dramatically alter the outcome of a game.
When rivals Rosewood and Princeton collide in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A (small-school) playoffs Friday night, it may very well be special teams that makes the difference.
The Eagles (5-7 overall) turned in a pair of significant special teams plays in last week's 42-17 win over Jones Senior. Jamari McGowan returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and Josh Davis returned a missed field goal 98 yards for a score.
Not only did each of those plays put valuable points on the scoreboard, but they both gave Rosewood some all-important momentum.
"Jamari caught the ball clean and that has been a big emphasis for us," Eagles' head coach Robert Britt said. "We got into our blocking wedge and Jamari ran his path into the wedge and was able to make some things happen.
"On the field goal return, enough of our guys realized it was still a live ball and Josh was able to run that one back. Those plays are just a result of guys playing with a lot of confidence."
Princeton (4-8) has displayed its own big-play ability in the return game this season.
Jamaal Allen returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown in a 43-41 triple-overtime loss to Rosewood on Oct. 26. Despite being just 5-foot-9, Allen possesses the speed and the ability to make defenders miss needed to be a true threat in the return game.
"Jamaal has turned into a special player and that's part of the special teams improvement featuring him on punt returns," Bulldogs' first-year head coach Derrick Minor said. "He's one of those kids who wants the ball in his hands. If we can get the ball in his hands, he can make some special things happen. He has found his element."
Both teams have benefited from consistency in the kicking game despite a significant difference in experience. Eagles' freshman place kicker
Marquail Almontser has provided a strong leg on kickoffs and has routinely converted extra points. Junior punter Alex Brogden has improved his hang time and allowed Rosewood's coverage team to get down field and prevent long returns.
"Alex does a great job of getting the ball and getting it in the air and allowing us to get down the field," Britt said. "Marquail kicks off where we want him to and he has been consistent on extra points. We have really worked on taking care of the small things in practice and the kicking game is a big part of every win."
Bulldogs' senior kicker Ryne Woodard is averaging nearly 40 yards a punt and has placed six punts inside the 20-yard line.
"We've been able to have one-on-one time with Ryne where we can focus on special teams," Minor said. "He's an extra weapon that helps our defense when we can pin those guys deep. Better snaps and better blocking ... all of that contributes to getting a better kick."
(Note: Sports Editor Rudy Coggins contributed to this story.)
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