Saturday, November 28, 2009

Third round bedevils Cougars again

SouthWest Edgecombe is going to win a state football championship one year but it won't be this year. The Cougars found the third round to be the stumbling block for the third time in four years as they lost to Reidsville 22-20 on Friday night.

There's not much shame in this outcome since the Rams are the two-time defending N.C. High School Athletic Association 2-AA state champions, have now won 46 straight games and are the overwhelming favorite to win their 18th state title now that they've gotten past their biggest obstacle — the Cougars.

Friday's game was everything you'd expect from a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. The Rams came in with a reputation for offensive explosiveness, leading the state with 669 points scored. The Cougars had gotten to the third round with a withering ball-control offense. Both teams did what they did, when they weren't being stopped by defenses equal to the task.

But the part that will haunt Cougars fans and head coach Raymond Cobb is the way it ended. After SouthWest answered the Rams' third touchdown with one of their own, they failed to tack on the two-point conversion. After the onside kick attempt was recovered by the Rams, the Cougars defense rose to the challenge and forced a punt.

SouthWest got the ball with just under two minutes to play and no timeouts. The Cougars quickly moved the ball inside the Rams' 30-yard line and, on first down, quarterback Chris Ellerbe spiked it. After a second-down pass went awry, Ellerbe took a shot at Javelle Jenkins in the end zone but the pass was long.

Fourth-and-10 at the 27 with 12 seconds left. The Cougars, admittedly not a passing team but effective through the air this drive, had one more option. Cobb sent Ellerbe on to try a 37-yard field goal which was dicey since Ellerbe hadn't really kicked any field goals all year and the field was a mushy mess.

But it all became moot when the snap was low and holder Pierce Sturgill was tackled by Reidsville's Steve Williams before he could pitch to Ellerbe.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who will second-guess that decision to go for a field goal in that situation but a coach has to do what he thinks is right in a situation. Cobb's record as one of the best coaches around speaks for itself so whatever criticism comes his way has to be taken in stride.

The Cougars knew they'd have to beat Reidsville to win the state championship, whether it was the third round, the first round or the last round. It didn't happen but it shouldn't sully what has been yet another great season in Pinetops.

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