12/03/17 — FOOTBALL --North Duplin topples Plymouth, wins 1A East Regional

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FOOTBALL --North Duplin topples Plymouth, wins 1A East Regional

By Justin Hayes
Published in Sports on December 3, 2017 3:08 AM

CALYPSO -- Gang Green is dressed out and ready for a turn in the capital city.   

The North Duplin varsity football team, unblemished this fall and unaffected by the rising, all-in stakes that accompanied its last three contests, turned back a game Plymouth outfit on Friday, 12-6, in a sideline-to-sideline, black-and-blue turf war that decided the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A East Regional Championship.

Call it a shadow-boxing symposium, because the early going certainly qualified as much.

Call it systematic, because Running Rebel William Archer certainly was.

Call it inspirational, for -- well, I suppose you just had to be there.

Next up, a junket to Raleigh for a meeting with an old friend -- Cherokee High.

Here, in running diary form, is an accounting:

5:49 p.m. -- The lights, burning like a suggestion between the loblolly pines surrounding H.E. Grubbs Field, are visible from the intersection of White Oak Bridge Road and Calypso Trail -- which is more than a stone's throw.

They're a one-stoplight bat-signal, if you will.

5:57 p.m. -- An elder gentleman, snug in a form-fitting cloak, stares anxiously at the gate, which North Duplin athletic director Ricky Edwards has yet to open.

He grabs its lock and smiles.

"I could snap it," he says.

Kickoff, in other words, or anything resembling such, simply can't get here fast enough.

6:03 p.m. -- A handful of steps through the metal detector, and there he is -- Rebel assistant JJ Vaca-Esparza, grinning with easy familiarity.

In his hand is a notebook, which is opened to a page resembling what looks like a constellation of game-winning X's and O's.

He points to them -- his call sheets --  and the grin broadens. It doesn't take a genius to figure out they mean the world to him.  

6:22 p.m. -- Edwards, chief of all things related to the Farm, enters the visiting press box and says the one thing he probably says more than anything else.

"Do you have everything you need?" he asks.

Only after asking a couple of more times --  and getting the desired response -- does he relent, closing the door behind him to amble down the concrete slabs holding media-types 50 feet in the air.

Be easy, Coach.

One false move on the cliff and you could easily bust a hip or chip a tooth. Or both.

6:30 p.m. -- A casual glance to the home skybox, an aluminum tube with a burning neon glow above it, looks like something you might see in a Hollywood film or country music video.

Only it's real.

There are generations, real ones -- moms and dads and their moms and dads, and then some -- snug against the tin, huddling for warmth under blankets, counting the seconds until the most recent crop of vine-fresh kids do battle.

Welcome to Norman Rockwell's south.

6:35 p.m. -- North Duplin takes the field, and it sounds just like you would imagine. Loud.

6:42 p.m. -- As his troupe reaches the midpoint of its pre-game warmup, North Duplin defensive coordinator Brad Rhodes looks on with a smile.

A proud smile.

"Is there a better way to end things... than at home, competing for a regional title?" he asks.

And just like that, he's gone -- someone, after all, has to monitor the number of practice kicks by one Mr. Saul Mendoza.

6:56 p.m. -- The Plymouth radio crew discusses the merit and cinematic range of the legendary actor Liam Neeson, to great hilarity.

"Why does his family keep getting kidnapped," one asks, in reference to the Taken trilogy. "You'd think they would learn!!!"

True story.

6:59 p.m. -- Exactly 33 minutes and three seconds until kickoff. Go clock, go.

7:02 p.m. -- It appears one of the Plymouth faithful has brought a World Cup horn -- you know, the kind of instrument that produces a muffled roar and registers just between  a whisper and a migraine.


7:20 p.m. -- The Marching Rebels, who have been on the field nearly as long as the players, perform a rock-solid version of the national anthem.


7:27 p.m. -- North Duplin wins the toss and elects to receive. It's possible that I hear Johnny Cash in the air, but mostly, it's bedlam.

7:39 p.m. -- The Rebels coax Plymouth into a pass interference call in the end zone, resulting in a sweet setup at the 5-yard line.

In somewhat of a shocker, North Duplin doesn't convert -- welcome to the regional final, good people, where everyone is a baller.

7:57 p.m. -- He doesn't appear to complete a high percentage of passes, but Plymouth quarterback  Aryn Gibson is poised on the move and has a cannon for a right arm.

Think of former Heisman winner Charlie Ward, if you will, patrolling fourth-and-long with a Howitzer.

He's dangerous.

8:09 p.m. -- After a pair of bother-me-not possessions by Plymouth, the whole of Calypso erupts as North Duplin quarterback William Archer finds the end zone on a bullish 1-yard run.

The PAT is wide, however, and the thought swarms instantly -- could it possibly come back to haunt them?  

8:18 p.m. -- A brisk, mostly penalty-free opening stanza has come to a close.

Cue the horn.

And while it's not Christopher Walken asking for more cowbell, it'll do. With North Duplin leading 6-0, the masses recharge.

8:32 p.m. --  Usually, it's analysis schamalysis, but this time it means something.

North Duplin just held Plymouth to a three-possession, 14-play spread over the first 24 minutes... in a regional final, no less.

Hello, Dolly.

8:41 p.m. -- The entire visiting press box is draped in the smell of popcorn. I can see only orange and am close to blacking out -- if anyone suffers a paper cut in here, they will likely bleed butter.

Good thing the windows work.

8:44 p.m. -- Plymouth's Aaron Wilkins marches in from three yards out, capping a 14-play, 67-yard drive that has just tightened the collar of everyone wearing green.

Forget the blanket, dear. I'll be fine in short-sleeves.

8:49 p.m. -- FUMBLE.

North Duplin coughs it up violently, and Plymouth falls on it. From his new post in Tempe, I think I can hear Herm Edwards screaming.

8:53 p.m. -- Rebels push back, forcing Gibson into a devilish fourth-and-forever... then hold the line.

Archer's getting the rock again.

9 p.m. -- Run Willie Run keeps it, gets a slither of the edge and ropes a gang of Vikings with him to the 11-yard line.

It's his first solid gainer in a good while, and we now have oxygen back in the stadium.  

9:02 p.m. -- The spin lives!!!

Archer disappears into a crush of humanity, then B-Buttons his way to the barn!!! The conversion fails, however, and ND leads 12-6.

This panic-attack is sponsored by the good folks of just-can't-seem-to-separate.


 9:05 p.m. -- Third quarter's a wrap. Someone is 12 minutes from Raleigh.

9:10 p.m. -- Archer is called for roughing the kicker, and Plymouth's Gibson has new life... which can make one feel quite anxious.

9:15 p.m. -- Remember when I said Gibson was dangerous? Make that Liam Neeson dangerous.  

The nimble senior just rumbled for seven yards on third-and-11, and it's fourth down-and-everything with just under seven minutes left on the board.

9:16 p.m. -- North Duplin holds!!!

The Rebels man up, pull the ol' Stonewall trick and deny Plymouth its Viking conquest!!!      

It's so loud here that the butter smell is gone.

9:23 p.m. -- Archer and Co. are stopped at the 33-yard line, and kick it away.

Sort of.

The punt is a wobbly drifter, and sets up Gibson on North Duplin's side of the field.

9:26 p.m. -- BOOM!!!

North Duplin's Kijah Blow renders the pain, meeting Gibson's laser-like toss to Cedez Norman with a Ronnie Lott-inspired spike to the solar plexus.

No big deal, mind you -- all he did was balance four years of Rebel football on the head of single play.  

ND's ball, by the way, for those scoring at home.  

9:30 p.m. -- Archer's third kneel-down, the final touch of a 32-carry, 176-yard, two-score performance, brings the show to a close.   

North Duplin 12, Plymouth 6.


9:36 p.m. -- A crack in the cement bleachers reminds me of the many ways one can perish covering high school football. Just a slip and it's all over.

But the show goes on.

9:39 p.m. -- As the Marching Rebels take off toward the field house in a loud line, a throng of Gang Green family members rush the field.

It's that time.

10:01 p.m. -- When asked of his quarterback's effort when it mattered most, professorial North Duplin head coach elected to keep it simple.

"Huge," he said with a smile. "Getting hit frequently... you know, the initial hit of an option keep and fighting for those extra yards -- just a huge amount of heart that he plays with."

And as for next week's opponent, Cherokee?

"We're familiar with each other," Martin said. "We know what they've got... we'll have a shot."

10:05 p.m. -- The crowd is gone now, off to celebrate in warmer places, and William Archer saunters through the Calypso chill, sleeveless like a true Youngstown lad, past a gathering of North Duplin cheerleaders.

They offer him a brownie.

"No thank you," he says with a smile.

And by degrees, No. 9 disappears toward the locker room, walking with a captain's gait, likely already thinking of next weekend.  

Winners tend to do that sort of thing