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Rockets lasso Cowboys 21-7; will meet Pope Friday

I’dre Bell (7) runs into the end zone, for the clinching third TD Friday. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- A.C. Reynolds lassoed the Southwest Guilford Cowboys 21-7 in football at home Friday, with aggressive defense dominance and the persistent offense’s knockout touchdown.

“We do our talking on the scoreboard,” star senior linebacker Frank Torres said of response to frequent physical and verbal run-ins during this second-round playoff victory.

“The third one put out of reach,” ACR head coach Shane Laws said about I’dre Bell’s clinching nine-yard TD run for a 21-0 lead in the final quarter. Bell, a junior, ran for 37 of his 53 rushing yards on the decisive drive.

Reynolds (12-1) hosts the state quarterfinal/West Region semifinal battle between the 3AA West’s second and third seeds. A Pope (not the one from The Vatican) comes to Dalton Stadium Friday — the day after Thanksgiving.

Star quarterback Brady Pope leads South Iredell Vikings (11-2). This Pope, a 6-3 senior, has thrown for nearly 3,400 yards with a sterling 37-4 TD-INT ratio this year.

Reynolds QB Alex Flinn is even better with a 38-4 ratio, and a 137.7 QB rating compared to Pope’s 124.7. Flinn passed for 233 yards Friday, to get to within 14 of 3,000 this season. He ran for his fifth TD of the year, diving into the right corner of the end zone on a 13-yard scamper. That was on third and long, and gave a 14-0 lead that held up at halftime. Pope has run for six touchdowns.

Leading Viking rusher Tavis White has rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and for 12 scores. ACR’s top rusher, Bell, has 804 yards (8.5 ypc.) and nine TDs rushing including the decisive one Friday. Bell has caught seven TD passes.

Darien Caldwell fights for extra yards against Cowboy Ruther Oxce (23). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Nate St. Onge leads ACR with 77 catches for 910 yards and 12 TDs receiving, to go with seven rushing scores. The senior led ACR with six receptions for 35 yards, after making 11 catches for 92 yards and a TD in round one. The former QB took some “wildcat” snaps Friday, and as usual ran the ball. Bryson Patton is next, with 701 yards and 10 scores receiving. St. Onge and Bell each have nearly 1,400 total yards.

South Iredell, the North Piedmont Conference champ based near Statesville, won by 20 over A.L. Brown Friday. Sixth seed Brown eliminated Erwin in round one. The game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. is likely ACR’s last at home in ’17, unless it wins and top seed and likely next foe Mount Tabor somehow gets upset by 12th seed Sun Valley. Tabor last week edged Watauga 21-14; Watauga ousted Asheville in its opener.

This is among the stingiest ACR defenses, to go with the usual explosive attack. The Rockets have given up 14 or fewer points in seven of the last eight games, with three shutouts and nearly another one Friday. They won round one 52-6 over Parkland, as Flinn threw for six TDs (three to Patton) and 327 yards.

Reynolds “foiled” the Cowboys from High Point Friday, with their patented Reynolds Wrap © wrap-up defense. ACR yielded merely eight net rushing yards and 84 in the air with most (67) on a garbage-time bomb with four minutes to go. Six fumbled snaps resulted in losses, shaving that rushing yardage.

ACR got the better of a turnover-marred cold evening, notching interceptions by Eli Hembree, Kejuan Watkins and Bell. Hembree has blocked four field goals this year.

Before Bell’s TD run, it was tough sledding on the ground for both teams. A major reason was Taylor Buckner, one of ACR’s star senior blockers, left early with an injury. This helped the Cowboy D-line, led by nose guard John Oxce. Also, ACR cornerback (second in INT with five) and main punt returner Seth Eberhardt was lost with an apparent broken collarbone.

Flinn opened scoring by rolling out then firing an 18-yard pass to sophomore Jhari Patterson, in the right side of the end zone, then ran for the second TD.

Reynolds scored an insurance touchdown sooner than the official third one, on Flinn’s pass to Patterson in the end zone. But it was ruled incomplete. Video shot by an ACR affiliate from that end zone showed in its slow-motion replay that Patterson seemed to have attained possession as he charged into the end zone, cradling the ball securely before it grazed the ground.

The official apparently thought it was bobbled up to the point of touching ground. The one making the ruling had the worst angle of the officiating crew, ACR coaches said.

On another near-TD, Ari Williams made a long gain on a catch but was ruled out of bounds en route to the end zone. One of two missed ACR field goals soon followed, keep the Cowboys within distant reach at 14-0.

But the Rockets kept blasting away on drives. Finally, midway into the final quarter, they got that decisive third TD. “We have tough kids,” Laws said of the perseverance. “We fight,” Laws noted.

Literally at times, as tempers flared. A Rocket’s throat was apparently grabbed after one play, and offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties were assessed. Watkins, for one, was urged by his coaches to tone down antics. The 5-9, 150 senior soon spoke volumes the old-school way. He delivered the hardest hit of all — legally and viciously sending the ball carrier into orbit out of bounds — and the home crowd roared.

Torres, leading tackler with 109 in ‘17, said there was much “jawing.” But he noted ACR coaches “teach us to be the ‘better man’ and not retaliate,” and that mostly was the caseFriday.

Southwest Guilford had bookend losses to Reynolds squads, losing its opener to R.J. Reynolds of Winston-Salem then bowing out at A.C. Reynolds Friday.

In perhaps an omen for another long playoff run, Reynolds (23-3-2) reached its first-ever state title game in soccer on Saturday. ACR fell 2-0, to 2016 state runner-up Chapel Hill (23-4-1) after a scoreless first half. Matthew Kennedy scored an ACR-record 35 goals in this season.

Patrick Gladys has coached soccer Rockets for 19 years — the last four in smaller 3A, instead of 4A. Playoff results have soared, as ACR advanced to the West final/state semi-final twice, and now the title match.

Football Rockets are in the midst of another long playoff run of their own. Their post-game attitude ranged among players from jubilation to quiet confidence. When breaking their post-game huddle, they chanted the slogan across the press box: The Big Green Machine. The Rockets are intent on keeping that juggernaut’s defensive engine roaring, and shifting the offense back into overdrive to reach the playoff’s next stratosphere.

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