One final time, Issac Marsh rode away from Auman Stadium a winner.
He wasn’t supposed to be on the sidelines to coach his Chapel Hill Tigers on Friday night. After undergoing shoulder surgery on Wednesday, Marsh could have simply stayed home and listened to the game while acting head coach Ryan Horton, a 2004 Chapel Hill High graduate and former quarterback, filled in as acting head coach.
But Marsh showed up at a game the day his father, L.C., was laid to rest 19 years ago. A mere shoulder injury wasn’t going to keep him from watching his last Chapel Hill team play against a cross-county rival, even if it meant staying in the press box as opposed to the sidelines.
Besides, Auman Stadium holds a special place for Marsh. It was the site of his first victory, a 49-0 victory over Orange in 2004. Less than six weeks before his debut, March was teaching summer school when he learned the previous head coach, Joe Wolfe, had resigned due to health reasons. Marsh was appointed interim head coach, and he’s been at the helm ever since.
Now, he’s the winningest football coach in school history. There have been extreme highs and amazing lows in between, but his final Chapel Hill team looks ready to send him out the right way.
The Tigers defeated Orange 42-7 on Friday night, Chapel Hill’s most lopsided victory over the Panthers since Marsh’s debut way back when. Senior quarterback Joshua Kelley, the younger brother of former Tigers signal caller Caleb Kelley, threw for two touchdowns and ran for a 33-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers (2-0) have beaten Orange four straight times.
It was a night to forget for the Panthers (1-1), who had three turnovers and two first downs in the first half. Only Nate Sorrells five-yard touchdown run with :32 remaining in the fourth quarter kept Orange from being shutout against the Tigers for the first time in 19 years.
“Honestly, we made too many mistakes,” said Orange coach DeVante Pettiford. “You can’t beat a team throwing three interceptions in the first half. We made a lot of dumb mistakes tonight. Sometimes, we were in man-t0-man and blitzing, we didn’t cover some of our guys up. We left the running back free. What we have to do is lock back in and pay attention to details. The small things got us tonight.”
Orange was held to 120 yards total offense. Of that, 78 yards came on the final drive. By that point, a running clock was already in effect after Kelley’s rushing score put the Tigers ahead 42-0.
Junior linebacker Nicholas Spremberg picked off a pass on Orange’s first drive. The Tigers converted three third-downs on its first touchdown drive. Kelley threw to Nik Demas on a 3rd-and-7 for a 13-yard pickup to penetrate the Orange red zone. On 3rd-and-7 from the Orange 17-yard line, Kelley hit Ethan Smith in the right corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.
On the final play of the first quarter, Orange quarterback Hank Nunnery found Kayden Bradsher for a 8-yard gain on second-and-five for a first down. The Panthers wouldn’t have another first down until early in the fourth quarter.
It appeared that Smith would score on defense after he picked off a Nunnery pass and returned it into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter, but a block in the back penalty called it back. But the touchdown wasn’t eliminated as much as it was delayed. Josh Roberson skirted around right end for an 18-yard touchdown with 10:33 remaining in the first half for his only touchdown of the night.
After the Panthers went three-and-out on its next drive, Chapel Hill faced a 3rd-and-8 from its own 44-yard line. The Panthers blitzed and got burned when Kelley threw a screen pass to Tyler Jackson, who won a footrace against the Orange secondary for a 56-yard touchdown catch-and-run. The extra point by Owen Kornstein put the Tigers ahead 21-0.
With 42 seconds remaining in the first half, Chapel Hill sophomore linebacker Prosper Miaigon scored on a 38-yard interception return.
The Tigers started the second half with a punishing drive of 9 minutes and 26 seconds where they overcame two penalties to score. It ended when James Lunsford punched in the ball from two-yards out on 4th-and-goal.
Pettiford learned after the game that this season would be Marsh’s final one.
“Coach Marsh is a great coach,” Pettiford said. “He’s put together a great team at Chapel Hill. I know in my entire time spent in coaching, they went from having a good varsity and a good junior varsity team. Then they went JV only (Chapel Hill didn’t field a varsity team in 2019). He’s built that thing back to the program you see now.”
CHAPEL HILL 42, ORANGE 7
CH–7 21 7 7 -42
OR–0 0 0 7-7
CH–Ethan Smith 17 pass from Joshua Kelley (Owen Kornstein kick)
CH–Josh Roberson 18 run (Kornstein kick)
CH–Tyler Jackson 56 pass from Kelley (Kornstein kick)
CH–Prosper Mbaigon 38 interception return (Kornstein kick)
CH–James Lunsford 2 run (Kornstein kick)
CH–Kelley 33 run (Kornstein kick)
OR-Nate Sorrells 5 run (Tyler Narold kick)
RUSHING– 29–144 3 TD (Roberson 13-81 TD, Kelley 5-28 TD, Smith 4-18, Jackson 5-13, Lunsford 2-4 TD). ORANGE: 19-41 TD (Sorrells 14-51 TD, Kayden Bradsher 1-5, Jaylen Starks 2-2, Daylin Ford 1-(-3), Hank Nunnery 1-(-13))
PASSING–CHAPEL HILL (Kelley 10-16 2 TD 159 yards) ORANGE (Nunnery (9-16 78 yards 3 INT)
RECEIVING–CHAPEL HILL (Jeffrey Sims 5-37, Smith 2-25 TD, Jackson 1-56 TD, Nate Kenan 1-25, Roberson 1-16)
ORANGE–(Crawford Farmer 7-50, Brandon Cummings 1-20, Bradsher 1-8)