LASKER — When in peril on Friday, brought about by mud and fog and a stout opponent, Northeast Academy freshman Dalton Vann delivered, making a pair of plays to help the Eagles secure a 14-12 victory over Wayne Christian/Goldsboro Home School in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Colonial Carolina Conference 8-Man junior varsity football championship.
The triumph capped a perfect fall for the Eagles (5-0), who leaned mightily on No. 18’s two-way prowess in the final minutes, what with Big Red trailing by four points and the whole of Lasker seemingly struggling to gather a comfortable breath.
“He’s my coach on the field, on both sides of the ball,” NEA head coach Stevie Flythe said of his star. “He has been since seventh grade … I put the ball in his hands.”
Which was exactly where it was down the stretch, as Vann booked the go-ahead score on a 2-yard keeper with 3:37 remaining, then sacked WC/GHS quarterback Nate Peck with 61 seconds to play — creating a fourth-and-all-the-marbles scenario the visitors could not convert.
In short, Vann was everywhere — no small accomplishment, rest assured.
Watch your footing
Successive days of heavy rain along the I-95 corridor did the playing surface no favors, as one might imagine, and spilled players awkwardly whilst they tried to move the luggage north and south.
The soggy turf also proved a defensive challenge for the hosts, who received stern counsel from Flythe at halftime — on their exuberance, no less.
“Go out there and play the way you’re supposed to,” the coach remarked during the team’s brief intermission. “Play like we’ve played all year long. Over-running plays is not going to make us win this championship.”
Alas, his troupe got the memo, combining to produce 41 tackles on the evening — 11 more than its per-game average.
In addition to Vann’s excellence, NEA also got a boost from Jayden Watts, who returned the second-half kick 63 yards before succumbing to what appeared to be a serious knee injury near the WC/GHS 20-yard line.
Taxing, the effort was, in addition to timely.
“It was a cramp,” Flythe said of Watts, who ultimately returned to the game after being attended for several minutes by the NEA training staff. “He had a cramp come up, or he would’ve had a touchdown for sure.”
Not to worry, however, as budding all-purpose star Nathan Trevino reached the end zone seconds later — giving the hosts a proper basis for their final-stanza rally.
COVID-era football and … a rivalry?
If anything, Friday’s contest generated two significant takeaways — one, that prep football, given strict adherence to gate-screening and social distancing protocol, is possible during a pandemic; and two, that this game — physical and not at all for the faint — should be even greater when advanced to the varsity stage.
And with that in mind, try your letter-best to remember these names: Vann, Trevino, Watts and William Coggins, in addition to Peck, Jackson Fields, Elijah Pridgen and Caleb Bass, as separated by just six points this season over two highly-charged contests.
As of this writing, they are all accomplished; but given time, will be even better.