The Rocky Ravens lost 40-14 to the Greensboro Page Pirates last Friday night in the first round of the North Carolina State 4AA football playoffs.
“I’m so proud of this team and especially the seniors,” Head Coach Jason Fowler said. “These seniors all came from other schools, not by their choice, and helped start this team and this program. They’ve been through a lot, andlesserkids would’ve quit, but they stuck it out, and I’m proud of them.”
Rocky River came into the game as the twelfth seed in the 16-team playoff format, while Page was the fifth seed.
As the lower seed, Page was the host team. The winner of this game would go on to play the winner of the E. Forsythe/Providence game in the second round.
The game was played on even terms early on. The teams traded punts in the first quarter. Rocky River attempted some long passes, but they were unsuccessful. The teams were able to move the ball between the 30 yard lines, but the defenses would stiffen and force the punt teams onto the field. Page forced the first turnover of the game just before the end of the first quarter.
Ravens’ senior quarterback Andre Rice forced a throw that was intercepted on the Pirates’ 23 yard line. That ended one of the few promising drives by the Ravens in the first half. Page got the ball back at their own 23, and the first quarter ended deadlocked at zero.
The turnover seemed to wake up the home crowd and the Pirates. They moved steadily down the field and scored. They actually scored twice. Page scored on an 18-yard pass play earlier in the drive, which was called back due to penalty. It didn’t matter. Eventually, the Pirates would score from nine yards out. The point after touchdown was muffed, but the Pirates still led 6-0 with just under seven minutes left in the first half.
At this point we had a close game, and the teams appeared to be evenly matched. Rocky River’s next drive started at the Page 35 yard line following a fine kickoff return by freshman running back Rashaad Brannon. After two first downs, the Ravenslookedtobeready to score the tying touchdown.
That is until a pass by Rice was tipped and then intercepted by Page inside the Pirates’ 10 yard line and returned out to the 25. The Ravens’ defense had been stout most of the evening, and they rose up. Page made one first down, but then on third and inches, sophomore linebacker Tim Thompson sacked the Pirates’ quarterback to force a punt.
Following the punt, the Ravens made one first down, but Rice was sacked, and they were also forced to punt. Unfortunately for Ravens fans, a high snap was mishandled, and the Pirates got the ball on the Rocky River 12 yard line with only 27 seconds left in the half. Page knew what to do next. They scored a touchdown on a six-yard pass play with only 4.5 seconds left. Page was unsuccessful on their two point conversion attempt, and the half ended with the Ravens trailing 12-0.
“You just can’t have breakdowns in special teams like that,” Coach Fowler said, “especially at the end of the half.”
Rocky River did some good and bad things in the half. They rushed for nearly 75 yards, which was controlling the clock, but Andre Rice was only two for 10 passing with two interceptions. The game was still within reach, however.
Rocky River showed some fight when they came out for the second half. Their first play from scrimmage was junior running back Deron Davis scooting around the right side and down the sideline for 57 yards.
After a Ravens penalty, senior athlete Sidney Lawson took a handoff and burst through a hole on the left side and scored from 28 yards away. The Ravens were back in business, cutting the deficit to 12-7 and only using 49 seconds of the second half.
Page got the ball next, and although they made a couple of first downs, eventually had to punt, as did Rocky River on their next possession. Page got the ball back at their 16 yard line and got their offense going. They ultimately scored a rushing touchdown with under four minutes to play in the quarter and got their advantage back to 12 points at 19-7.
That advantage would last all of 14 seconds. Sidney Lawson took the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for another Ravens’ touchdown. Lawson broke through one potential tackler, picked up two great blocks on the left side, and outran the rest of the Page kickoff coverage team, leaving them grasping at air. That made the score 19-14, and the Ravens were still in the game. That was as close as they would get.
Page took the next kickoff from their own 44 and really took control of the game. They scored on a beautiful 20-yard pass, making the score 26-14. This was when the wheels fell off for the Ravens.
The rest of the game was a mixture of solid play by the Page Pirates and indifferent play by the Ravens. Several penalties, some fumbles, and a few sacks kept Rocky River from getting a rally going on offense. In the meantime, Page was opportunistic, taking advantage of the Ravens’ miscues.
The final score was Page 40 and Rocky River 14.
Page will now go on to the second round and will play at E. Forsythe, who defeated Providence 42-7.
The Ravens’ first foray into the playoffs ended in disappointment.
“We had a good week of practice this week, but we just didn’t execute,” Coach Fowler said.“You turn the ball over five times against a good football team, it’s gonna be hard to win.”
“We didn’t quite have it on offense tonight, for whatever reason,” Coach Fowler said, “but my hat’s off to this Page team. They’re the defending 4AA champions for a reason. They lost their first four games this year and now they’ve won seven straight. They’re a real good football team, well coached, and I expect them to go far in the playoffs.”
The touchdown given up by the Ravens at the end of the first half was reminiscent of Rocky River’s game against Butler in the middle of the season. In that game, Butler broke open a close game with 16 points in the final two minutes of the half, and the Ravens never recovered.
Sidney Lawson again showed his versatility, scoring the Ravens’ only two touchdowns, one rushing and one on special teams.
“This year’s team laid the groundwork for us to do something special in the upcoming seasons,” Coach Fowler said.
The future for this team starts soon. “The kids will get about a month off,” Coach Fowler said, “and then we’ll get them in the weight room. We’ve got a lot to do and we’re going to get it done.”