Cedar Ridge football season ends at Vance County. By Tim Hackett

Updated: November 9, 2019

by Tim Hackett

Everything had led to this. All the hard work, the long hours, the grueling drills, the tough losses, they all built up to one more moment: Friday’s regular season finale, which meant one more chance for the Cedar Ridge players to go out and compete after a year without football. One more chance to strap ‘em up with your teammates and play together. One more chance to play spoiler and uproot a conference rival’s strong season. One more chance to prove to others – and themselves – that they belong. 

Instead, Vance County quickly proved why they might be a legitimate force in the 3A playoffs in just the second year of this version of the school. A Viper team that averaged close to 33 points and just shy of 400 yards of offense in the first ten games of the 2019 season easily surpassed both of those lofty marks in their regular season finale, as Vance County (9-2, 5-2 Big 8) dominated its first-ever meeting with Cedar Ridge (1-10, 1-6) 65-6 on Friday night in Henderson. 

The Red Wolves picked up one first down and then punted on their first possession, and once the Vipers got the ball, they swiftly showcased that elite offense that’s helped them dominate nearly every team they’ve played this season save for the two Big 8 teams from Durham. Against this team from Hillsborough, Vance County scored eight touchdowns on eight offensive possessions before taking knees on their final one, and even scored once on a defensive possession, and barely allowed Cedar Ridge to cross midfield until the waning minutes of the game. Quarterback Samein Burwell, who averages more total yards of offense per game individually than Cedar Ridge does as a team, authored one more chapter in the story of his electrifying senior season, throwing for three touchdowns in the first half and eclipsing the 3000 total yard mark with another standout all-around performance.

Noah Terry, one of the conference’s best two-way players, scored four total touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air. Davonte Evans rushed for two scores. Top wideout Phadol Jordan found the end zone on both sides of the ball, including a 60-yard fumble recovery for six in the first quarter. Burwell hit Jordan for two two-point conversions and hit William Hawkins IV for two more. Even backup quarterback Saimir Best got in on the action, scoring a 32-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion for his first trip to the end zone since Vance County’s fourth game of the season. 

The Vipers players and fans who braved the sub-40-degree temperatures got to see plenty of great plays, but they were never louder than they were late in the first quarter. Phadol Jordan had just put the game beyond any doubt with his fumble recovery to make it 28-0 in the first period, but Vance County kicker Stephanie Melgar added in some history by knocking through the PAT. Vance County’s first made kick of the season was made by the conference’s only regular female player, and the Senior Night crowd gave the soccer veteran some much-deserved appreciation. 

It was always going to be a difficult task for a Cedar Ridge team once again playing without a few regulars to contain a truly elite offense, but the Vipers, also working without a few key players, still showcased a solid defense and didn’t have to worry about poor special teams play on this night. Those latter two phases could be problematic for Vance County once they hit the playoffs, but if the Viper offense plays as close to as well as it played Friday, it’s tough to imagine many teams slowing them down.  

But even in the worst, most lopsided loss in a season full of them, the Cedar Ridge players once again showcased their resolve, tenacity, heart and desire to compete. It’s not easy to look back and say that Vance County was simply a far better team than Cedar Ridge and played like it. It would have been easy for Cedar Ridge, knowing that fact, to just give up or not even try. But try they did. Sure, the Vipers still executed, but that’s a testament to Vance County’s skill level. The manner in which the Cedar Ridge players comported themselves, in this tough game and all throughout this tough season, is a testament to their coaches, their families, and to their own characters. 

And the Red Wolves got to put up a few highlights of their own on the field as well. Zach Holmes completed another fake punt pass. His brother Toby Holmes handled the punting duties in the second half and looked pretty solid. KJ Barnes was Cedar Ridge’s best player in his final football game, turning multiple catches along the line of scrimmage into double-digit gains. Braedon Thompson, like usual, made a bunch of stops, even in the fourth quarter. And once the Red Wolves finally got into the red zone with the running clock winding down, Braxton Mergenthal got to add one final moment to his stellar senior season, running the ball in around right tackle from three yards out for his first career touchdown. One of the guys who helped to lay the foundation for Cedar Ridge’s return to football relevance got one more moment to remember, and on a cold night a long way from home, Cedar Ridge finally had cause to celebrate.

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