ELON–In 2000, when Florida State was at the peak of its powers winning nine straight ACC Championships, Bobby Bowden said “We already play in the toughest conference. The Florida Conference.”
He was referring to annual nonconference battles against Miami and Florida, who was still coached by Steve Spurrier.
While Orange High won six conference championships across the fall, winter and spring last academic year, and Cedar Ridge had numerous individual athletes make strong runs towards state crowns, football has been it’s own entity since the formation of the Central Carolina Conference in 2022.
It has been the Alamance Conference and it won’t be any different this year.
Though Western Alamance handed Orange a 27-9 loss at Primm Stadium on Friday night, the Panthers asked no quarter and gave none. They held Western Alamance quarterback Evan Kuehnel to a season-low 132 yards passing. Kuehnel started the season throwing for 491 yards in a loss to perennial power Reidsville.
Behind a strong pass rush, the Panthers defense forced six three-and-outs against a normally potent Warriors offense. However, Western’s defense directly generated points. Senior safety Josh Long had two interception returns for touchdowns. The Warriors (4-1, 1-0 in the CCC) also forced an Orange fumble for a safety late in the first half. All told, Western Alamance’s defense scored 16 points.
“That score says 27-9, but anybody watching knows our defense gave up two touchdowns tonight,” said Orange coach DeVante Pettiford. “This is an Alamance County powerhouse, a big, strong team. Bigger and faster than us and that’s a testament of this defense. But there’s three phases to football: offense, defense and special teams. I think we’re doing good on the defensive end, but we’ve got to pick up the others.”
It was a frustrating offensive night on both sidelines. Orange (2-2, 0-1 in the CCC) was held to three first downs and 91 yards. Late in the second quarter, punter, placekicker and safety Tyler Narold added “quarterback” to his resume, replacing starter Hank Nunnery after Orange failed to generate a first down in the opening 20 minutes.
Kuehnel, in his third year as starting quarterback, found top receiver James Newton twice on the Warriors first scoring drive. After a 23-yard pickup on the initial play of the Warriors second series, Kuehnel hit Newton again on 3rd-and-10 from the Orange 28-yard line. Senior running back Cam Cottn rushed up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown with 8:31 remaining in the first quarter.
With 5:20 remaining in the frame, Narold pinned the Warriors to the 14-yard line following a 36-yard punt. Kuehnel, also the Western punter, had one go off the side of his foot from the back of the end zone that wound out of bounds at his own 15-yard line. Orange was unable to move forward, but Narold kicked a season-long 34-yard field goal to reduce the Warriors lead to 6-3. The “scoring drive” was negative two yards.
Late in the first quarter, Long picked off a pass by Nunnery and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. Camden Oliveria’s extra point put the Warriors ahead 13-3.
Orange’s defense put up another stand after Cotton reeled off a 45-yard run, his longest of the night. Oliveria’s 37-yard field goal banged off the bottom of the crossbar with 4:12 remaining in the first half. On the subsequent drive, the Panthers went backwards. An errant snap to Nunnery wound up in the end zone, where running back Nate Sorrells covered it up before Western linebacker Nick McGhee could get to it, leading to a Western safety.
The ensuing free kick led to the best Western drive of the night. Cotton reeled off runs of 15, 7 and nine yards before junior Marquele Harvey scored on a 16-yard juke around right end with 1:41 remaining in the first half.
After Sorrells picked up Orange’s initial first down of the game with a 12-yard carry to open the third quarter, the Panthers’ drive fizzled after two penalties. With 4:28 remaining, Narold’s pass slipped through Crawford Farmer’s hands and was picked off by Long, who streaked up the left sideline 45 yards for his second touchdown.
Nunnery returned at quarterback in the third quarter and generated the Panthers only touchdown. He hit Ja’Ki McDaniels for a 44-yard pass to the Warriors 13-yard line. After the Warriors were called for a defensive holding penalty, DeAndre Brown bolted forward for a four-yard touchdown run, his first of the season.
“I’m beyond proud of those guys,” Pettiford said. “It shows progress. We’re getting better. Last year, (Western Alamance) won 38-3. Tonight’s we got it down to 27 points. It’s just making progress.”
WESTERN ALAMANCE 27, ORANGE 9
WA–13 8 6 0-27
OR–3 0 0 6-9
WA–Cam Cotton 3 run (kick blocked)
OR–Tyler Narold 34 FG
WA–Josh Long 32 interception return (Camden Oliveria kick)
WA–Safety, Nate Sorrells tackled in end zone
WA–Marquelle Harvey 16 run (pass failed)
WA–Long 45 interception return (kick failed)
OR–DeAndre Brown 4 run (kick failed)
RUSHING: ORANGE (Sorrells 22-33, Brown 2-5 TD, Jaylen Starks 2-(-2), Kayden Bradsher 1-(-6), team 1-(-14).
WESTERN ALAMANCE (Cam Cotton 13-94 TD, Marquelle Harvey 2-28 TD, Collin Moylan 2-6, Kuehnel 3(-4), Ethan Oakley 1-(-6) James Newton 1-(-6),
PASSING: ORANGE 5-26 73 yards 2 INT (Hank Narold 5-19 73 yards INT, Narold 0-7 INT).
WESTERN ALAMANCE 10-31 132 (Kuehnel 10-29 132, Oakley 0-2)
RECEIVING: ORANGE (Ja’Ki McDaniels 1-44, Brandon Cummings 1-16, Kayden Bradsher 1-7, Crawford Farmer 1-4, Sorrells 1-2)
WESTERN ALAMANCE: (Newton 5-61, Jacob Miles 2-49, Long 2-8, William Clinkscales 1-14)