from Mike Ellis at the Jamestown News and CLICK HERE to read more from the Womack Newspapers….
In a contest marred by the collapse of referee Eric McCoy, who later died, Ragsdale had a lot on the line as they traveled to Simeon Stadium on Friday night to meet the Bison from High Point Central. With a win, they would be assured of wrapping up a tie for the Piedmont Triad Conference championship and the No. 1 seed from the conference heading into the state playoffs. A loss and they would drop to fourth place in the conference and a potential wild card birth in the playoffs, which would mean a road game and a meeting with a No. 1 seed from another conference in the first round. The conditions on Friday night were less than ideal. After enjoying temperatures in the 70s all week, Friday night brought temperatures in the 30s and a light rain was falling as the two teams took the field for the final regular-season game.
Both teams seemed to struggle in the elements. Turnovers played a big part in the outcome as the wet conditions made handling the ball difficult, and the pigskin ended up on the ground and passes went to the wrong colored jerseys. The two teams combined for nine fumbles and four interceptions as the offenses struggled to sustain a drive and put points on the board. Ragsdale found a way, relying on the defense to shut down the Bison and to give the Tiger offense excellent field position. The three touchdowns the Tigers scored all came after a turnover as the offense used quick strikes to put the points on the board as they found a way to record a 20-16 come-from-behind victory.
It seemed like the Tigers would score on their opening possession until the “turnover bug” struck for the first time. Taking the opening kickoff, Ragsdale marched down the field behind the running of Marquez Eleazer and two Garrison Herndon to Erik Romer passes, the second pass covering nine yards and setting up a first and goal at the 6 yard line. Herndon found Anthony Stewart on the left side for the completion, but the ball came out as he was hit and Central recovered at the 2 to end the scoring threat.
On the first play of the second quarter, Ragsdale’s junior linebacker Duncan Sparks made a diving interception at the Ragsdale 42 yard line. The Tiger offense wasted little time in taking advantage of the turnover as Garrison Herndon lofted a perfect pass to Anthony Stewart, who glided into the end zone for the score. The 58-yard pass play combined with the Brad Davis extra point gave Ragsdale a 7-0 lead.
Central answered right back. After not being able to move the ball in the first quarter, Central got their passing game on track as quarterback Justin Johnson completed consecutive passes, the first to Jawan Foggie for 19 yards and the second to Zerrick Baker for 24. A penalty on the Tigers moved the ball to the 11 yard line and Johnson ran the option play off right tackle for the score. Will Johnson converted to tie the score at 7 with just under 10 minutes left in the half.
The Ragsdale defense struck again on Central’s next possession. Senior defensive back Sharif Diaz picked off a Johnson pass at the Bison 40 yard line and returned it to the 10 to set up a first and goal for the Tiger offense. Herndon found tight end Joe Pantuso over the middle at the 3 and Pantuso carried a couple of defenders into the end zone for the touchdown.
Once again the Bison answered. Starting the drive on their 19 yard line, Central went 81 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. The highlight of the drive was a fake punt on fourth down. Quarterback Johnson had the big play as he dropped back to pass and escaped the Ragsdale pressure and carried 58 yards to the 2. Zerrick Baker carried the ball the final yard for the score. A bad snap on the extra point forced a failed pass attempt and an unsuccessful conversion, which resulted in Ragsdale clinging to a 14-13 halftime lead.
Central would get another scoring opportunity early in the third quarter as the Bison defense came up with another turnover. Defensive back Travis Dillard picked off a Herndon pass at the Ragsdale 23 yard line. Four plays later, Baker found the end zone again from four yards out, but a holding penalty nullified the score. Given a new life, the Ragsdale defense rose up and stopped a third down play, forcing Central to send in kicker Will Johnson, who was successful on a 31-yard field goal to put his team up by a 16-14 score.
That score would stand until halfway through the fourth quarter. Brad Davis came up short on a 34-yard field goal attempt on the first play of the final quarter. The two teams exchanged punts and High Point took over on their 21 still clinging to the two-point lead. Central ran an option play to the left and quarterback Johnson was hit by Ragsdale’s defensive end Brian Nwokolo, forcing a fumble. Brandon Swinton fell on the loose ball at the Central 6 yard line. The Tiger offense took advantage as Eleazer carried the ball twice, the second time from two yards out for the score. A two-point conversion try was unsuccessful but Ragsdale had taken the lead at 20-16 with just under seven minutes left in the game.
The Ragsdale defense made that lead hold up. Central had three more possessions and the Tigers shut all three drives down. Twice Ragsdale forced the Bison to turn the ball over on fourth down and Will Sams recovered a fumble on the other drive. The final drive came up short on the High Point 42 with 35 seconds left.
The Ragsdale defense was outstanding on the night. They came up with four turnovers as Duncan Sparks and Sharif Diaz had interceptions. For Sparks, it was his team-leading sixth interception of the year. The other two turnovers came on fumble recoveries by Brandon Swinton and Will Sams. The defensive front seven kept pressure on the Central offense all night and recorded seven sacks. Sams had three sacks and Larry Ogunjobi had two; with Trey Grimes and Brian Nwokolo recording the other two. The defense set up all three Ragsdale touchdowns as the scores all came following turnovers.
The offense seemed to struggle with the elements. Four turnovers, two on fumbles, and two interceptions stopped offensive drives. The offense was opportunistic, however, striking for scores after turnovers. Ragsdale scored on a one-play drive of 58 yards and two two-play drives which covered 13 and 6 yards. Garrison Herndon was 12 for 20 for 177 yards with two interceptions but he also had two touchdown passes. Anthony Stewart had four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown while Erik Romer had three catches for 40 yards. Joe Pantuso made the most of his one catch, pulling it in for 13 yards and his first varsity touchdown. Marquez Eleazer was the leading ground gainer as he carried the ball 31 times for 59 yards and a touchdown.
With the win Ragsdale ended up the season with an 8-2 record and a 5-1 conference record. East Forsyth and Northwest Guilford also had 5-1 Piedmont Triad Conference records as the three teams shared the conference crown. This marks the fifth consecutive year that Ragsdale has ended the year with a conference title.
Now it is on to the NCHSAA 4A State Playoffs. Ragsdale ended up with the No. 3 seed for the Midwest pod and will face North Davidson at home at 7:30 this Friday night. They were the third-place team out of the Central Piedmont Conference. The Knights were 7-3 for the season.
Ragsdale 0 14 0 6 20
HP Central 0 13 3 0 16
First Downs 13-R 9-HPC
Rushing Yardage 79-R 68-HPC
Rushes 47-R 23-HPC
Passing Yardage 177-R 144-HPC
Pass Comp/Att/Int. 12/20/2-R 10/33/2-HPC
Punts/Avg Yds 5/27.0-R 4/22.5-HPC
Fumbles/Lost 6/2-R 3/2-HPC
Penalties/Yds 8/65-R 4/35-HPC
Time of Possession 31:16-R 16:44-HPC
R – Anthony Stewart 58 yard pass from Garrison Herndon (Brad Davis kick) (11:44)
HPC – Justin Johnson 11 yard run (Will Johnson kick) (9:58)
R – Joe Pantuso 13 yard pass from Herndon (Davis kick) (4:06)
HPC – Zerrick Baker 1 yard run (Kick failed) (0:38)
HPC – Will Johnson 31 yard Field Goal (8:51)
R – Marquez Eleazer 2 yard run (2 pt attempt failed) (6:43)
NCHSAA 4A Playoffs
#1 (1) Porter Ridge 10-0
#8 (14) HPCentral 5-5
#4 (6) Davie County 7-3
#5 (8) Dudley 5-5
#3 (3) Ragsdale 8-2
#6 (9) N Davidson 7-3
#2 (2) Mt. Tabor 9-1
#7 (10) W Guilford 4-6