Energized East stifled shorthanded Cedar Ridge. By Tim Hackett

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Updated: October 19, 2019

By Tim Hackett

Last week in Hillsborough, something just felt different. Now, that sounds trite and impossible to conceptualize, but it was true – and last week, with a well-stocked and well-dressed Homecoming crowd on hand, Cedar Ridge turned that magical feeling into its first varsity win in close to 800 days. This week in Chapel Hill, everything once again just felt a little different – but the Red Wolves quickly realized that, this time around, different meant bad. 

With that mystical Homecoming magic now working against them, Cedar Ridge (1-7, 1-3 Big 8) went three-and-out on its first four drives, threw four interceptions, had two touchdowns wiped out due to penalties, and were simply outplayed by an East Chapel Hill (1-7, 1-3) team that hadn’t won at the varsity level in almost exactly a year. The Wildcats keyed in on the Red Wolves’ offensive gameplan early, and, from there, all it took was a few mistakes from the visitors and a few big plans from the hosts to help the Wildcats to a comprehensive 33-12 victory that snapped a ten-game losing streak dating back to October 12 of last year. 

A week ago, the Tigers and the Red Wolves were so methodical and successful moving the ball that each team had one possession in the first quarter and just three full possessions in the first half. That wasn’t the case this week: Cedar Ridge had four possessions in the first quarter alone, but didn’t pick up a single first down. Zach Holmes only had to attempt three punts last game. He had four in the first quarter in this one. On the other side, East Chapel Hill also produced three punts and two three-and-outs in the first quarter, but the Wildcats also produced an Anton Enoch quarterback keeper for a one-yard touchdown, set up by a massive connection from Enoch to his brother Anthony a few plays before. 

From that point until halftime, the Cedar Ridge defense was rock solid. East had three possessions in the second quarter – one ended in a three-and-out, one ended in a Desi Raspberry end zone interception, and one ended the half. But in that same span, East still managed to score 13 points with their offense watching from the sidelines. 

The Red Wolves were finally able to move the ball to begin their first drive of the quarter, but only because they fooled the Wildcat defense with the same trick play that won them the game against Chapel Hill last week – a Will Berger right-side toss to Isaiah McCambry ended up a handoff to K.J. Barnes running an end-around from right to left. Last week that got the Red Wolves two points, this week it got them about 45 yards and put McCambry in position to find the end zone on another right-side toss – only for the score to be called back due to a penalty. Facing a third-and-goal from the 15, Berger opted to pass for Barnes staring at one-on-one coverage, but ZaMail Vaughn won the individual battle and came away with a pick in the end zone to stop the threat. 

The Cedar Ridge defense promptly forced a three-and-out, and a bad East punt placed the Red Wolves right around midfield. But on the very first play, Berger tried to quickly hit Barnes on the left sideline, but the pass was too high and Barnes, volleyball setter-style, tipped the ball in the air with both hands. It fell perfectly into the hands of Zaion Vaughn, who redeemed himself for his poor punt by racing the pick back 46 yards to the house. A great return of the ensuing kickoff put Cedar Ridge right back at its own 45, but just a couple of plays later new quarterback Elijah Whitaker zipped a risky pass to the right flank that his receiver never saw – but Zaion Vaughn did see it, and he returned this pass about 60 yards to the house. The next Red Wolves possession saw Barnes ejected and while Raspberry was able to help save face by picking off Enoch in the end zone, the damage was done: the Wildcats led 20-0 at the break. 

Perhaps energized by the Homecoming festivities or the prospect of holding a halftime lead, the Wildcats struck instantly in the second half, with Anton Enoch once again connecting with Anthony on a 37-yard rainbow of a touchdown pass over the defense. Nicholas DeMasi doinked the PAT in off the left upright – it really was that kind of night. Cedar Ridge punted once and went four-and-out once in the third quarter, but McCambry opened the fourth with a two-yard score to finally get the visitors on the board. Vaughan Lanier missed the extra point, but any sniff of a Cedar Ridge comeback was instantly snuffed out when Zaion Vaughn caught Ian Kavanaugh’s low kickoff right in the gullet and freight trained his way for a 75-yard kickoff return. 

ZaMail Vaughn got back in on the action by picking off Berger again on the next drive, this time off a drop by Tyler Roberts, and East gifted Cedar Ridge the ball right back with botched snap on the next play, the Red Wolves simply ran out of time. The visitors marched down the field, helped by a couple of strong runs from Aiden Seagroves, to set up another McCambry score, but that too was wiped out due to a penalty – it really was that kind of night. For some reason the clock kept running during the final few minutes, but no one made any protest. East Chapel Hill deserved the win, and it got the win, 33-12.

Cedar Ridge probably should have been the favored team against the winless Wildcats, but, in truth, the Red Wolves were playing at a disadvantage from the get-go. Now that certainly doesn’t fully excuse the result, but it does go a ways towards explaining it. With a few key contributors present but not dressed and still other starters not even present, Cedar Ridge was playing short-handed, and that severely restricted the Red Wolves’ depth on both sides. Once Barnes was tossed, Cedar Ridge became more one-dimensional on offense than they were before, and the Wildcats’ defensive front stonewalled McCambry all evening. It remains to be seen if Cedar Ridge will get any of those missing players back any time soon, but, if not, those who are there will need to regroup in a hurry: up next is conference title frontrunner Southern Durham, and the Red Wolves will have to be ready to go if they want to avoid this kind of night again.

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