Midway through the third quarter Friday night, Red Springs’ third-round playoff game at James Kenan felt like it was already over. Head coach George Coltharp tried keeping his sideline alive as the Tigers continued to pound the football for big chunks off-tackle and at the boundaries.
Not much went right for the Red Devils, the Three Rivers Conference champions, after a highlight-filled first quarter. Jedarian Lesane opened the game with a 52-yard run and scored three plays later from the 2. C.J. McGeachey added a 27-yard touchdown reception and a 65-yard kickoff return for a score during a furious ensuing four minutes that brought a well-traveled crowd to its feet.
There was one problem during Red Springs’ hot start, however. James Kenan was scoring, too.
The Tigers’ first two plays, both extended handoffs, spanned 57 and 63 yards, a sign of things to come on a treacherous night for the Red Devils’ rush defense. James Kenan piled up eight touchdowns and 521 yards on the ground a week after Pender gashed Red Springs for 394 rushing yards. The Tigers didn’t turn it over and scored 48 consecutive points after Red Springs led 21-14 at the end of the first quarter.
It was clear from the start, this wasn’t the same Tigers team that lost to Red Springs in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Ken Avent Jr.’s group focused on winning the line of scrimmage and dominated in that department much of the game. The option kept the Red Devils’ front seven off-balance and managed to move the chains effectively.
Playing at home, the Mideast 1AA pod’s top seed also benefited from a series of quick snap counts at the line, causing Red Springs to jump offsides at least six times. By halftime, the Red Devils were called for 13 penalties compared to two for the Tigers and had several 50-50 plays go against them. On one memorable tackle near the sideline, it appeared a Red Devil defender stripped a ballcarrier and got possession before the whistle. Officials ruled the play dead out-of-bounds.
An early James Kenan interception at midfield should have been negated when a 12th player was seen running off the field when the ball was snapped. Didn’t happen.
The boiling point for the visiting sideline came minutes into the second half after a Tiger corner picked off a pass, celebrated with hand gestures, but wasn’t flagged. Previously, Red Springs linebacker Quinn Lowery was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after signaling incomplete after a pass break-up.
At that point following the no-call, Coltharp and the rest of his staff stopped pleading with officials and encouraged their players to do the same.
“There’s some stuff I can’t talk about or say, but some things were out of our control tonight,” Coltharp said. “Adversity got to us a little bit and we just got beat.”
Overshadowing the yellow laundry, however, was the way James Kenan seemed to have an answer for most of what Red Springs did offensively. For the first time all season, the Tigers faced a primarily passing offense and aced the test. James Kenan jumped two screen routes for interceptions and forced an attack based around short, timing plays into a handful of third-and-longs. Quarterback Blake Greene’s mobility was limited from the pocket and besides two touchdown passes in garbage time, never found a rhythm with his receivers.
What else can be exhumed from a disappointing loss that ended the program’s second straight 10-win season, a first for the Red Devils in 25 years?
But a loss is a loss any way you crack it, they just always seem to hurt a little more in the postseason. For Robeson County’s most consistent winner this fall, Friday night’s party in Warsaw didn’t go as planned.
“The team we just played was really, really good,” Coltharp said. “But I’m proud of our guys and for the season they’ve had. It’s been special.”