A week can make quite a difference.
Just seven days after scorching Mount Hebron 41-14 in a season-opening win at home, the hitherto high-octane Northeast Eagles had their jets cooled by North County in the Knights’ home opener on September 13.
North County quarterback John Hardcastle threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, teammate Kenny Houston had three touchdown runs, and the Knights ran rampantly over the Northeast defense to improve to 2-0 with a 42-19 win.
The Eagles received touchdowns by Cole Souvenir, Mason Kanipe and Cody Edmondson but otherwise struggled to slow North County’s athleticism and ground game, playing from behind throughout the night and having their difficulties compounded by injuries.
“Mama told me there’d be days like this,” said Northeast coach Brian Baublitz. “This was a tough one.”
Perhaps the Knights were buoyed by their Week-1 win over Severna Park, a disjointed 13-6 victory, or maybe it was the energized Friday-night crowd on hand for their home opener.
That, or maybe the Knights just have a slew of playmakers who were balling from the opening kick.
The Knights made a stop on their first defensive possession, and Hardcastle hit Samual Grahm for a 28-yard passing touchdown on their second play from scrimmage. Northeast’s Brayden Young blocked the extra-point attempt, at the time a big play to keep North County’s lead at 6-0.
Eagle wingback Jaden Roberts responded with a 60-yard rushing gain down the left sideline to get inside the North County 30-yard line, but Northeast couldn’t keep the chains moving and turned the ball over on downs.
Initially, the Northeast defense kept the Eagles in the game. Northeast made several strong tackles to keep North County in its own territory before forcing a fumble that was recovered by Tamir Hatcher. Tony Miller came on to relieve starting quarterback Riley Pitt, who left temporarily with an injury, and Miller led a scoring drive. Tyleek Coleman ran for 17 yards on third-and-14 to get a first down, and Miller lofted a floater over the linebackers to Roberts for another first down. Souvenir bruised through tackles to put Northeast in the end zone, and an extra-point kick by Kayla Alexander gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
By that time, Northeast was already dealing with a conveyor belt of injuries that stacked up mercilessly for the remainder of the night. Deploying most of the starters in dual offensive-defensive roles, the Eagles’ depth was challenged as ultimately nine starters had to exit for some or all of the game due to injuries.
Baublitz was loathe to make excuses but acknowledged that it was an unwelcome challenge to see such volume of injuries.
“That was devastating tonight. I’ve never been a part of that in my life,” said Baublitz. “We had nine starters go down. Nine starters. You know, I’m not making any excuses. [North County] played physical ball and they knocked our boys out. But we can’t recover from that and we don’t have the depth for that. But, they were beating us up before that even happened.”
Despite strong open-field tackles by Roberts and Souvenir that briefly slowed North County’s ensuing push, Houston made a long gain for a first down and punched in a short touchdown run for a 13-7 Knights lead. Northeast didn’t produce a response offensively, and Hardcastle hit Kyle Silver on two consecutive passes, a long completion and a short touchdown, for an 18-7 lead at halftime.
North County extended its lead after the break when Rodney Wilkerson ran back the opening kick 50 yards down to the Northeast 10 yard line. Hardcastle ultimately kept for a 1-yard touchdown run and a 24-7 North County lead.
Pitt re-entered the game at quarterback for Northeast and helped the Eagle offense regain traction as Roberts ran for a first down, Souvenir caught a long pass for another first down and Kanipe hauled in a 20-yard pass for a touchdown. Northeast pulled to within 24-13.
Houston came right back with an 11-yard touchdown run on North County’s ensuing drive, pushing North County back out to a 30-13 advantage. When Northeast tried to make up ground in a hurry, Pitt was intercepted, setting up the North County offense again. Hardcastle broke free in the middle of the field for a 56-yard touchdown run and a 36-13 lead.
Even in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, Northeast maintained pride in every snap and continued to fight, imploring each other on the sidelines to keep making plays. An interception by Connor McGregor gave the Eagles the ball, and Cody Edmondson sped past a fleet of Knight tacklers for a 61-yard touchdown run to make it 36-19.
Houston capped his terrific evening with yet another North County response, capping a Knight drive with his third touchdown for the final score of 42-19.
The loss came a week after Northeast started the season on fire in a 41-14 rout of visiting Mount Hebron. In that game, Pitt ran for a touchdown and threw two touchdowns to Coleman, while Edmondson and Roberts also had rushing touchdowns. Miller threw a 30-yard touchdown to Kanipe, and Alexander made five of six extra-point attempts for the Eagles.
Baublitz and the Eagles remained undeterred and unfazed despite the loss, giving credit where due but knowing they are fully capable of playing better and beating strong opponents.
“Watching tape, we knew they were athletic and very good,” Baublitz said. “I honestly think now, after playing them, they’re playing a lot more as a team instead of individuals, which is really helping them, and coach [Quinten Jones] is doing an outstanding job over there… We’ll do what we have to do. We’ll wake up in the morning and get an injury report and see what we’ve got going. We have a really big game in Dover [Delaware] next week. We’ll see what pieces of the puzzle we have left and we’ll go out and compete for 48 minutes next week.”
Week to week in this county and region, it’s anybody’s game. A proud night for North County just might end up being fuel for Northeast’s fire.
“It’s Friday night lights,” said Baublitz. “You never know what’s going to happen. “That’s what makes it so beautiful.”