Opening night was special night for area programs
by Staff Writer
The opening act has officially been completed.
Four Lake Norman-area football teams had large doses of newness on Aug. 19. Two squads played their first varsity games, and two others had coaches making their debut.
The results were a mix of nerves, comfort, excitement, playing well, playing not-so-well, relief, and anticipation of doing it all over again the next dozen or so Friday nights.
Fans, players and even coaches themselves never know exactly what the first game might produce. It’s part of what makes high school football interesting.
Here’s a recap of the teams involved:
The Patriots shocked a lot of folks with a 61-29 romp at Harrells Christian, one of the state’s top private-school programs.
Davidson Day, which played a junior varsity schedule last season (and went 10-0), wasn’t affected by the four-hour bus ride. Or by being the visiting team. The Patriots rolled to a 21-7 lead after one quarter and 40-13 by halftime.
“I was amazed with the poise and confidence of our players,” Davidson Day coach Chad Grier said. “The boys had such a sense of peace about them that I knew they were ready. Our guys have bonded very closely as a football family, and their belief in one another was very evident. They just love to play football and were ready to go. Our guys have the attitude that they will play anyone, anywhere, any time, and no one intimidates them.”
Will Grier, the coach’s son, threw for 314 yards and five touchdowns, and ran for 119 yards. Aaron Seward and Jordan Brown caught two scores apiece. Evan Gates scored three touchdowns on defense, including a 92-yard interception return.
Chad Grier said he felt extremely focused beforehand because of the preparation by his assistant coaches, support staff and players.
“I found myself being entertained by the way the boys executed and by some of the funny stuff they say and do,” he said. “It was a blast. I have many great memories from Friday, but the one that stands out the most is that scoreboard reading 61-29 in favor of the good guys, and then being able to share that moment with my wife and boys, my brother, my mom and stepdad, and the players and parents who make our program about so much more than just football.”
Coach David Johnson wasn’t hired until July, when summer workouts were in full swing. Many thought it would take a while for the Titans to catch up, especially since Johnson was installing a new offense (the Spread).
The new coach, his assistants and the players showed they were pretty good doing double-time. Hopewell dominated the second half in a 41-13 home victory against Providence. The Titans outscored Providence 27-0 in the second half after a mistake-filled first half.
“The assistant coaches did a great job with conditioning,” Johnson said, referring to the workouts before he was hired. “It came down to conditioning, and that’s not a knock on Providence. We just prided ourselves in conditioning, and up front we were in better shape and able to pop some holes.”
All three of quarterback Chandler Chase’s touchdown passes came in the second half, including two to Jermaine Sanders. The defense had an interception return for a touchdown (by Cameron Underwood), recovered an errant punt snap at Providence’s 5-yard line to set up a touchdown and harassed the Panthers into 6-of-24 passing in the decisive second half.
Johnson, an assistant at Berry Academy the past three seasons, said he wasn’t nervous beforehand, and didn’t appear that way. He smiled and laughed with game officials before the coin toss and energetically led the huddle for the kickoff return team.
“My father (also a coach) came down from New York, and I’ve been around football for 30 years,” Johnson said. “To me it was just another day, and the only difference was I was the head coach. Once the ball was kicked off, I was the offensive coordinator, Coach (Casimir) Bundrick was the defensive coordinator, and we did what we usually do. I didn’t even think about it.”
New coach Zach Bevilacqua admitted being nervous before his debut, a 25-6 loss at Newton Fred T. Foard.
“I definitely felt the nerves, and I think that transferred to my team,” said Bevilacqua, an assistant the past four seasons. “We came out a little nervous, and it was almost surreal. Then I realized, ‘Hey, I’ve got to coach football.’
“You keep telling yourself it’s just football and you’ve been around it a long time. The way I look at it, we lost the first quarter, 19-0, then tied, 6-6, the rest of the way.”
Bevilacqua said there’s obviously more pressure as a head coach than when he was a player or an assistant coach.
“Everything is a reflection of how I’m running a program,” he said. “I want it to be done right. The first time, you never know what’s going to happen. The second time around, it will be easier. But losing does not come easily to me. I hate losing.”
Bevilacqua said he was able to relax a bit during a junior varsity game last Saturday and by “being around my kids.”
He also took steps this week to help alleviate any stress the players might have felt. During warmups before practice, he played music for the players. Musical tastes may clash, but the treat helped.
“I wanted them to dance around like teenage boys and have fun,” Bevilacqua said. “I think our team responded well.”
LAKE NORMAN CHARGERS
The new team under coach Randy Ferrell, formed of players from Pine Lake Prep, Mooresville Christian Academy and home-schoolers, lost 40-14 to Lake Norman Charter in the opener.
The Chargers will face the usual first-team hurdles but also the challenges small-school teams battle. Depth will be a concern, and with several players starting on offense and defense, the Chargers can’t afford many serious injuries.