Thursday, November 24, 2011

Friday's battle will come down to basics

Happy Thanksgiving!

I got to bed around 2 a.m. (about my normal time) after making four pumpkin pies and putting the turkey in a bag of brine solution for an overnight bath. The pumpkin pies were made from one of the pumpkins my son got on his preschool, pre-Halloween field trip to a local farm. It's the first time I've ever made pumpkin from a real pumpkin but I figured it was time to get back to basics.

Keeping that mind, that's what I think Friday's N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-AA Eastern football championship will come down to. Defending state champion Northern Guilford conveys an image of flash and dash with speed as a major component of its spread offense. But the truth is, the Nighthawks will, if not pound you to death, certainly slash and slice you up behind the capable of legs of junior running back TJ Logan and senior quarterback Daniel Downing.

When Northern Guilford beat Hunt 28-20 in the 2010 3-AA Eastern final, the Nighthawks passing game was as much of a reason as their ground attack. But this season the Nighthawks have run for an average of 264 yards per game and passed for just 70.6 yards per outing. Contrast that to Hunt's 233.4 per-game rushing average and 70.4 passing average and you see two teams who are very much alike.

In speaking with my contacts in Greensboro, I've learned the perception of the 2011 Nighthawks is they might not be as good as last year. That translates into Northern Guilford has less talent; understandable since half its 2010 starting quarterback duo, Rocco Scarfone, is at East Carolina while Shrine Bowl receiver Maurice Harris plays for California.

That assertion could be made about Hunt, which lost Tyrell Vinson, Caleb Driver, Spencer Miller and a host of other members of the class of 2011. But here's the thing: The Warriors lost a considerable amount of talent but, in my opinion, they are a better team this year. They've showed that with 13 straight wins that included a few downright Houdini-like escapes. That's a sign of a mature team who understands there are endless possibilities when figuring out a way to win.

So if Hunt can lose talent but end up better, who's to say Northern Guilford isn't in the same boat? After all, the Nighthawks have had an impressive 12-game winning streak including last week's 35-6 destruction of previously unbeaten and host Fayetteville Byrd.

If these two teams are as closely matched as I think (and they were pretty close last year), then this is what's going to happen. Friday's outcome is going to come down to the basics: taking care of the football, limiting penalties and mental blunders and making tackles. Not tackles 10-15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage but hit-'em-at-the-line-and-wrap-'em-up tackles.

Hunt's been good enough to overcome its mistakes in recent games but the Warriors better hope that if they do make mistakes, and I mostly mean turnovers and penalties, they make them when they least hurt. Ditto that for Northern Guilford.

I realize just about everything I've just typed here has a major "Duh!" factor. Those components I listed are the keys to just about any game for any football team. But more than anything else, I believe Friday's game won't come down to speed, experience, who wants it more, destiny or any of countless other reasons one can find. It's this simple: Don't screw up and make tackles.

Can't get any more basic than that. Now, does anyone know how to make turkey gravy?

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