SWANSBORO — Croatan couldn’t get out of its own way Friday in an error-prone 19-10 loss to Swansboro.
The Cougars (1-1) turned the ball over twice and three more times on downs as the offense struggled to get anything going against a stingy Pirates (2-0) defense.
Far from a mistake-free game by either team, Swansboro’s edge on the offensive side of the ball – they out-gained Croatan 263 yards to 165 – was enough to give the Pirates their third straight victory over the Cougars.
“They’re a good football team,” Croatan coach Andrew Gurley. “They’re a lot better than they were last year, and tonight they flat out beat us. We didn’t help ourselves, and they capitalized on a lot of things. It’s hard to win a game like that.”
Croatan had four offensive drives start in Swansboro territory in the first half but only got points on one of them. The three others resulted in turnovers. The Cougars only got possession four times in the second half with three ending in turnovers and the fourth on a punt.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Gurley said. “Every time we got good field position, something went wrong. The back goes the wrong way, the quarterback opens the wrong way, we fumble the ball, (or) we get a false start. We played worse in week two than we did in week one, and that doesn’t usually happen. We have to figure it out.”
The Pirates celebrated the game, dubbed the Ben & Jerry’s Bowl, with ice cream on the field directly after the contest provided by game sponsor Ben & Jerry’s of Emerald Isle.
Noticeably missing from the fanfare was Swansboro head coach Tim Laspada who was forced to miss the contest due to an emergency medical procedure.
“He had emergency surgery in his small intestines,” Swansboro offensive coordinator Shea Townsend said. “He’s probably in surgery right now, so our guys definitely had something
to play for.”
Motivation was the word of the night for the Pirates, who came into the game feeling slighted over media predictions giving Croatan the edge.
“The paper (he didn’t specify which one) had us losing, but our kids thought they were better,” Townsend said. “They were tired of everyone putting them down, so it was easy to motivate them this week. They wanted this one.”
Swansboro gave Croatan first crack at driving down the field with the opening kickoff. The Cougars responded with three straight plays resulting in zero yards gained and a blocked punt that gave the Pirates prime field position on the Croatan 6-yard line.
The Cougars responded admirably with four straight stops for a turnover on downs. Dakota Grey recorded a sack for a loss of 4 yards on second down, and Swansboro quarterback Damien Flores threw back-to-back incomplete passes to give away possession.
The Pirates didn’t waste their second golden opportunity when Croatan coughed up possession on first down at the 11-yard line. This time, Isaac Wooten found the seam for the first of three touchdowns on the night.
Flores, after struggling on the first drive, found a rhythm on the next two drives, completing four straight passes for 112 yards. His first pass, a 65-yard throw to Jaylen Smith, set up a 13-yard score from Wooten.
“(Wooten) had a great game,” Townsend said. “Last week, we threw for 327 (yards) and five touchdowns. I give credit to Croatan, they were ready for our passing game and stopped us on a lot of plays. Our run game had to step up, and it did tonight.”
Wooten finished the night with 110 yards on 13 carries. R.J. Belk rushed 15 times for 32 yards.
“They’re two good backs,” Gurley said. “We knew that from the film. They’re also able to throw the ball, and they
The Pirates were within striking distance again in the second quarter, reaching the Croatan 26-yard line before Walker Gladwell sacked Flores for a 5-yard loss on third-and-7. Swansboro went for it on fourth down, but Flores’ 10-yard pass to Belk wasn’t enough to move the sticks.
Starting on their own 20-yard line, the Cougars finally got life from their offense with seven plays for an 80-yard scoring drive. Highlights were quarterback Major Hawkins finding Alex Barnes for a 10-yard gain and then Barnes finding the seam as a ball carrier for a 58-yard dash to the end zone. Barnes rushed 14 times in the game for 91 yards.
Aidan Kimbrell nailed the point-after kick, and later in the half, with time expiring in the second quarter, he converted a 24-yard field goal to make it a 13-10 game at halftime.
The momentum swing didn’t last long for the Cougars. They attempted to pooch kick the Pirates to start the third quarter, but the ball took a Swansboro bounce and was scooped up by Isaiah Rodriguez for a 67-yard return. Wooten finished the job on the next play with a 13-yard touchdown run.
Wooten’s run was the last score of the night as each team’s defense tightened up down the stretch. Both offenses turned it over on downs on their next possessions, Croatan punted on its next drive, and Swansboro turned the ball over on the drive directly after. The turnover came courtesy of a strip sack on Flores by Grey. The Cougars sacked Flores three times in the game for a loss of 21 yards.
The Swansboro defense repaid the favor two possessions later when Hawkins’ pass landed in the arms of linebacker Cole Hamilton. Hawkins finished the night 5-of-11 for 42 yards. Andrew Mendolia caught two passes for 26 yards and Barnes two for 14 yards.
Swansboro ran the clock out on its final drive, milking each second until Croatan got one last shot with two seconds left. With no time to overcome the nine-point deficit, the Cougars simply took a knee.
“This is just one loss,” Gurley said. “We want the guys to come together and support each other. Don’t let this wreck our season. We’ll get back on the horse next week and figure it out.”
The Cougars will host West Carteret (1-1) on Friday, while Swansboro will make a trip to Richlands (1-1).