McDowell still has a ways to go to really compete with teams like the Alexander Central Cougars, but the Titans are unquestionably moving in the right direction.
McDowell (2-2) fought tooth-and-nail before succumbing 39-7 to the powerful, athletic Cougars Friday night in a game that was relatively close for the first three quarters.
The Cougars (2-2) led just 20-7 heading into the fourth quarter, but added three late touchdowns to put away the scrappy Titans. Even though the final score and stat sheet were lopsided, the loss was nowhere near as bad as last season’s 63-0 defeat or the 49-0 shellacking in 2018.
“I told the kids after the ballgame to go home and look at themselves in the mirror, and then look at that bunch (Alexander Central) down there,” said Titans head coach Darrell Brewer. “We don’t look the same. But they fought for everything. On defense, we didn’t give up the big plays and made them earn the drives, and offensively, we moved the ball but shot ourselves in the foot several times. Again, we sometimes have a hard time beating McDowell.
“But I’ve never lost one by a score like that where I felt as proud of a football team. As a coach, you tell yourself, if the kids give it all they’ve got and lay it out there, you can be satisfied, and I think we did that. I think our kids gave every ounce, everything they had.”
That was obvious from the get-go, but the Titans still couldn’t contain Central’s full stable of offensive backs. Running behind an enormous yet mobile offensive line, the well-disciplined Cougars got at least 65 rushing yards from four different players. Alexander Central outgained McDowell 410-90 and had 24 first downs compared to six for the Titans.
McDowell’s only touchdown came late in the first half when Jacob Pearson blocked a punt deep in Alexander Central territory and Riley Moore returned it 10 yards for a score.
That trimmed a 20-0 deficit to 20-7, and the score stayed that way until Central wore the Titans down in the fourth quarter. Still, all the Cougars’ touchdowns except one came as the result of sustained drives and not via the big play.
It was the second solid showing in as many weeks for the Cougars, who walloped Freedom 53-12 last week after dropping their first two contests, thanks in large part to a spate of COVID-19 positives that put them behind the eight-ball. Central dropped its opener 7-2 to South Iredell in a bizarre game that saw the Cougars missing all but one offensive starter.
“We had 16 guys out and the only offensive starter we had was our split end,” said Cougars head coach Butch Carter. “Then we played Watauga the next week (21-7 loss), but as good a program as they are, it was hard to practice your guys a couple days and then go play them.
“We finally had a good week of practice and were able to play Freedom and were back where we were supposed to be. We knew tonight, McDowell playing at home and how good they are, I knew Coach Brewer would have them ready. And I want to tell you something – they played hard from snap to whistle and from bell to bell tonight. A lot of credit to them and their coaching staff. He’s doing a great job with attitude and effort. It was a ballgame right up until the fourth quarter.”
The Titans had a good chance to put points on the board early, but came away empty.
Utilizing an empty-backfield, five-wide formation, McDowell drove from its own 38 to the Central 10 before the drive stalled and Seth Baird narrowly missed a 27-yard field goal.
McDowell quarterback Gabe Marsh (9-of-18 passing, 76 yards, INT) completed four passes on the opening drive, including two to tight end Jeremiah Ellis for a total of 25 yards.
When Central got its hands on the ball for the first time, the Cougars marched 80 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Lance Justice (15 rushes, 67 yards, 2TDs) capped the drive with a 7-yard run at the 4:47 mark of the first quarter.
After the Titans went three-and-out, Justice (4-of-5 passing, 47 yards, TD) hit a wide-open Peyton Payne on play action for a 47-yard TD and a 13-0 lead.
Running back Andrew Bumgarner (8-43-2TDs) made it 20-0 on his 7-yard run with 4:29 to go before halftime, capping a 13-play drive.
The Titans got their blocked kick and touchdown with 27 seconds to go in the half, and Baird’s extra point made it 20-7.
Nobody else scored until the fourth. Justice and Bumgarner each had 4-yard TD runs, and fullback Dayente Calhoun (15-71-TD) added a 3-yarder in the final quarter.
Cameron Lackey (11-76) led Central’s ground game. Josh Abernathy (6-65) was also productive, as was fullback Ryheem Craig (5-41).
McDowell had just 14 rushing yards on 17 attempts. Ellis caught two passes for 25 yards, while Evan Grigsby had two receptions for 19 yards and Riley Moore two catches for 18 yards. Titans leading rusher Quantavian Moore, nursing a sprained ankle, was used sparingly and had only two carries.
The Titans host Watauga Friday (7 p.m. kickoff).
Alex. Central McDowell
First downs 24 6
Rushes-yds. 60-363 17-14
Passing 4-5-0-1 9-18-1
Passing yds. 47 76
Total yds. 410 90
Return yds. 74 52
Fumbles/lost 2/0 1/0
Penalties-yds. 5-35 1-15
Punts-avg. 2-16.5 5-33.4
Alex. Central 13 07 00 19 – 39
McDowell 00 07 00 00 – 07
Individual stats: Rushing: Alex. Central (Cameron Lackey 11-76, Dayente Calhoun 15-71-TD, Lance Justice 15-67-2TDs, Josh Abernathy 6-65, Andrew Bumgarner 8-43, Ryheem Craig 5-41) McDowell (Gabe Marsh 7-8, Team 1-m9, Helon Alvarado 5-2, Grayson Blackwelder 1-0, Quantavian Moore 2-5, Jacob Pearson 1-8) Passing: Alex. Central (Justice 4-5-0-1-47 yds.) McDowell (Marsh 9-18-1-0-76 yds.) Receiving: Alex. Central (Bumgarner 2-m4, Calhoun 2-4, Peyton Payne 1-47-TD) McDowell (Jeremiah Elis 2-25, Evan Grigsby 2-19, Riley Moore 2-28, Q. Moore 1-7, Pearson 1-4, Seth Baird 1-3)
AC – Justice 7 run, kick failed (3:57)
AC – Payne 47 pass from Justice, Daniel Specht kick (1:07)