BEAUFORT — The Mullet Bucket had experienced parity in recent years.
There was no such thing Friday night.
West Carteret exploded for 48 first-half points on its way to a 48-13 blowout over East Carteret in the 55th iteration of the game. The second half flew by with the 40-point mercy rule running clock.
“We got some breaks early, and we were able to kind of roll and keep the momentum throughout the game,” West coach Daniel Barrow said. “The start was so good, and we kept it going.”
The county rivals had split the previous four games in the series with the Mariners outscoring the Patriots 93-84 in those tilts. The spreads in those contests were 7, 16, 3, 21.
The spread was 48 points Friday after 20 minutes of play.
The Patriots now hold a healthy 36-18-1 advantage in the 55-year history of the rivalry after capturing 10 of the last 12.
Each team was coming off big losses with West suffering a 49-7 setback to New Hanover and East enduring a 58-6 affair that also saw a running clock in the second half.
The Mariners, having lost their first two games by a combined 106-19, now take on a North Lenoir outfit that has won its first two games by a combined 59-20.
“We’ve got to make sure the guys don’t get their heads down,” East coach B.J. Frazier said. “It’s adversity. We can’t be broken by this. After a while, you have to grow up. We’ve played two games, so you can’t keep blaming it on youth.”
East gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the game for the second week in a row when Anthony Piccini took a pooch kick, broke a tackle with a spin move and was off to the races with a 72-yard score.
“At least we got a hand on him this time,” Frazier said. “We’ll continue to get better at it. We’ll get better.”
It then became the C.J. Rocci show.
The West junior, who received limited playing time last year, hauled in the next four touchdowns and ended the first half with five catches for 148 yards.
“Rocci had a great night,” Barrow said. “He had a career night. I can’t even remember how many touchdowns he had – four, five? He would score then run out there and kick the PAT.”
Rocci, who is also the team’s kicker and punter – he finished with a 26.6 average on three punts – had six PAT kicks as well. He caught touchdown passes of 14, 21 and 12 yards from Kel Jones in an 11-minute span on the same play, a rollout to the right and up the sideline.
“We were out of position,” Frazier said. “And we left him wide open. It’s hard to teach them when you can’t get them off the field. You can’t draw it up that quick to show it to them before they have to get back out there on offense. It’s hard to make adjustments because our guys don’t come off the field.”
East’s lack of depth and inexperience shined through on those plays. The team has just 27 players on the roster, and 16 of those are underclassmen, including seven freshmen and nine sophomores. The majority of the Mariners’ starting roster plays both offense and defense.
Rocci capped his night by making a leaping catch over East defender Cameron Eakes and running to glory for a 75-yard score. Jones finished 5-for-7 with 148 yards and four touchdowns and added 76 yards on 10 carries.
Camden Ballou then made it a 48-0 contest with 4:26 to go in the first half after touchdown runs of 37 and 11 yards. The senior tailback ended the night with 129 yards on nine carries.
“Our guys played a pretty clean game,” Barrow said of a team that was penalized just three times. “The penalties didn’t hurt us, and we didn’t turn it over, and that’s big. Last year, we fumbled it five times (in a 21-14 loss). That was good to see. That was the big fear coming into tonight, playing real sloppy.”
East finally got on the board with no time remaining on the first half clock when Qualik Nolon ran it in from 20 yards out.
Unlike the previous week against West Craven, there were signs of life from the Mariners offense. They reached West’s 29- and 30-yard lines in the first half but came away empty each time. East had more first downs (21-14) than the visitors and almost as many rushing yards (214-203).
“We moved the ball consistently tonight, so we’ll take that progress,” Frazier said. “We just didn’t capitalize.
It stood in stark contrast to the performance versus West Craven when the Beaufort squad had four turnovers and managed just 72 total yards with 52 of those coming on a scoring drive in the third quarter. The Mariners had minus-6 rushing yards on 19 carries in that contest.
“We kind of thought we would wear them out,” Barrow said. “They didn’t wear out. They are doing some good conditioning over there. They’re a tough, gritty group. I thought their low numbers would hurt them, but they were playing really hard, fighting on. We expected them to get fatigued, but they didn’t.”
Jacob Nelson posted the final score on a 27-yard run with less than five minutes to go in the game. Adam McIntosh had 93 yards on 11 carries for East, followed by Nolon with 55 yards on 11 carries and Nelson with 30 yards on seven carries. Nolon also had 31 yards on two receptions.
The Patriots’ Logan Headington (two sacks) and Travis Barbour (1.5 sacks) helped the Patriots defense limit the Mariners to just 50 passing yards.
“It’s encouraging that our linebackers and secondary watched the East Carteret film twice and told me they noticed some things,” Barrow said. “That hasn’t happened very often in my coaching career. They take that kind of initiative and show very good leadership.”
The Patriots will stay on the county rivalry beat with a trip to Croatan this Friday.