The Red Devils’ maniacal play on defense Friday night against the state’s most dynamic spread offense was a performance he’ll savor the rest of his coaching career.
“We kind of kept it quiet this week and had an outstanding week of practice,” Cook said. “I don’t think (St. Pauls) had played against anybody with as much speed as we had besides Gray’s Creek. We just had to be mentally prepared to go out and get the job done.”
Backed in a corner after last week’s demoralizing loss to Goldsboro that nearly cost Red Springs its starting all-county quarterback, the Red Devils responded with the upper hand defensively in their Three Rivers Conference opener in the form of a 48-20 thrashing of St. Pauls.
Red Springs tallied a season-high seven sacks and held an offense that averaged more than 500 yards coming in to 196.
“We kind of felt like now was the time for us to get it together,” Red Springs coach George Coltharp said. “For us, we’ve played the people and been in the four-quarter fights. When we scheduled Goldsboro and Sun Valley and South Columbus, we knew it would eventually pay off.”
Cook emphasized his players’ attention to detail and said the game plan was simple from his end — suffocate Robeson County leading rusher Shawn Williams and apply pressure to the Bulldogs’ passing game.
Williams was held to a season-low 75 yards on 17 carries and was stopped seven times before or at the line of scrimmage. In last year’s 57-6 loss to Red Springs, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior was held to 47 yards on 15 carries.
“We knew if Shawn got down hill, it wouldn’t have been good for us,” Cook said. “We took away the counter and played really tough up front.”
Red Springs’ Mike Graham recorded six tackles and 2.5 sacks to lead a defensive front seven that dominated the line of scrimmage. St. Pauls saw its five-game winning streak snapped and never recovered after failing on a 4th-and-goal attempt with 16 seconds left in the first half.
A touchdown would’ve brought the Bulldogs within a single possession at 27-20, but Jhamel Leonard was stopped short by a gang of defenders on a reverse at the 2-yard line. From there, St. Pauls’ offense was stuck in a rut much of the second half before Jacob Locklear’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Williams with a few minutes remaining.
It was the first time this season St. Pauls was held below 42 points.
“I don’t think, as a team, we handled the adversity of being down real well,” St. Pauls coach Trey Sasser said. “Sometimes you expect things to happen, but you still have to make things happen. Red Springs played more like it was a rivalry game. They played with more intensity than us.”
Red Springs quarterback Blake Greene, who was cleared to play late Thursday by the team’s trainer, accounted for 314 yards of offense and six touchdowns. He scored on runs on 3, 27, 9, 3 and 1 and threw a 17-yard screen pass to Zach Leach for a score. Greene made his 23rd consecutive start and admitted he thought his availability for Friday’s game was in jeopardy after taking a hit to the helmet against Goldsboro.
“I knew if I was cleared, I was going to give everything I had to help my team and pick them up,” Greene said. “I’m just glad I could play.”
Playing without two-time all-county wideout JuJu Brown who is sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury, the Red Devils found openings in the secondary as a handful of pass-catchers more than made up for Brown’s absence.
The group of Leach, Branden Smith, C.J. McGeachey and Zach Jones caught 11-of-14 passes thrown their way with only a single drop. Junior running back Jedarian Lesane had his best game as a varsity player, totaling 148 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
Lesane delivered the killshot midway through the fourth quarter after he ran over a defender with a helmet-to-helmet smack en route to a 50-yard gain. Greene scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the contest two plays later to commence the rout.
“Even without Juju or if Blake couldn’t go, the game plan all week was to give it to Doody (Lesane),” Coltharp said. “I think Doody is the best back in this league. No disrespect to anybody else, but he does so many things for us.
Red Springs scored on 4-of-5 first-half possessions and mixed up the run and pass throughout to the tune of 443 total yards.
“We really thought what they do defensively gave us the option to do some things,” Coltharp said. “Our offensive line came up big tonight. I couldn’t ask for anything more from them.”