Jackets, Cavs have reasons to be hopeful

A few thoughts on the county’s two football teams after reaching the two-month mark of the season…The Lee County Yellow Jackets are improving with every game; let’s just hope time doesn’t run out on them.

Coach Jody Stouffer has done a great job keeping this team together despite the rash of injuries that have beset the Jackets. While it’s an old football axiom that every team deals with injuries, few teams on the high school level ever have to endure the kinds of aches and pains the Jackets have, starting with star running back and Duke recruit Jay Hollingsworth, who made his return to the gridiron Friday night for the first time since leaving the Brick City Bowl with a back injury on Sept. 14.

Lee County gave first-place and unbeaten Athens Drive all it could handle for four full quarters on Friday, nearly pulling off what would have been the Tri-8 Conference’s biggest upset of the season. But that has kind of become the Jackets’ norm the last couple of years — from their season-ending victory over Cary a few years ago to an upset of league heavyweight Fuquay-Varina last year.

Lee County, at 2-6 overall and 1-3 in the league, has three league games remaining and may need to win all of them to reach the state playoffs. I wouldn’t count them out just yet…

Southern Lee got back to its winning ways on Friday night as well with a sterling performance against Gray’s Creek. The Cavaliers snapped a three-game skid with a dominating 44-20 victory over the Bears that wasn’t even that close.

The game was back-and-forth throughout the first quarter, but much of Gray’s Creek’s success offensively was a result of the Cavaliers sitting three defensive starters for the entire opening period as punishment for breaking team rules.

The Bears, led by East Carolina recruit Marquan Brown, knifed through the Cavaliers in the early going, even taking a 13-12 lead. But once the second quarter began, it was a different game. While Southern Lee’s offense never slowed down — split end Aaron Mellette had touchdown catches of 40 and 28 yards to go with a 70-yard punt return for a score — the Cavaliers took a comfortable two-touchdown lead that they would never relinquish thanks to their defense.

Before the end of the first half, Southern Lee stopped Gray’s Creek on three straight possessions, and after turning the ball over on downs on their own 24-yard line with 24.6 seconds remaining in the second quarter after a fumbled snap, the Cavaliers forced a Brown fumble with 6 seconds to go to keep the Bears at bay.

In the end, Southern Lee kept marching while it had the ball and stiffened when it didn’t, holding the Bears without a score on eight straight possessions and allowing just 102 yards of offense in the second half.

South Johnston coach Joe Salas warned against writing off the Cavaliers a week ago, and now Southern Lee, with an improving but winless Western Harnett team coming to town next week for the home finale, has a chance to build the kind of momentum it had going in the first month of the season…

How much of a difference is it having Hollingsworth on the field? Herald sports writer Randy Quis said that on Friday, plays that were going for two or three yards in Hollingsworth’s absence were going for six or seven yards when Hollingsworth was involved. There‘s a big difference in second-and-8 and second-and-3…

Sophomore quarterback Dakota Hart keeps improving. You can see it Stouffer’s eyes when he talks about Hart. With his solid decision-making and knack for side-stepping the rush and delivering the ball downfield, the Jackets appear to be set for the next two years at a position that was an open question mark coming into the season…

While Southern Lee running back Raymond Brown went over 1,000 yards for the season with a 148-yard performance against Gray’s Creek, Mellette broke the 800-yard mark receiving in just his eighth game. Mellette, a senior being wooed by several Division 1 schools, may continue to get more attention as the season comes to a close. He also has nine TD receptions this year…

Jacket wide receiver Lee Gay seems is becoming almost un-guardable offensively. With great hands, he has emerged as Hart’s favorite target, and with the play-action threat of Hollingsworth back, Gay gives the Jackets a multi-threat offense that could cause some teams problems if they can just find a way into the postseason…

With the game already decided Friday, Southern Lee tried a few passes in the direction of senior Mike Tipton, a hard-working receiver who hasn’t had an opportunity to make a catch yet this season. Following the game, Cavaliers coach Bryan Lee took some heat from a few members of the Gray’s Creek coaching staff for “running up the score.”

Interesting thought, but a wrong one. Lee was just trying to do something nice for one of his players. We should all be lucky to have coaches who are mindful of such things in the heat of a game.

Besides, the Bears’ staff had its chance to do the same thing for any one of its reserves, but instead chose to have its entire starting offensive unit on the field — including Marquan Brown — to score its meaningless touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game.

Who would you rather have coaching your son?

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Filed under Lee County High School, Southern Lee High School

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