KEEP POUNDING

Last week, I set out to write about my most memorable games during 6½ years here at the News-Times.

Oftentimes, those memories have been good ones, ending in valiant wins from the intrepid county team. However, some of them also ended in losses, usually a heartbreaking one. Then there are the blowouts that still stick in my mind, blowouts like the East Carteret football team’s 59-7 third-round playoff loss to Wallace-Rose Hill in 2016.

I still have dreams about Wallace running back Johnnie Glaspie mercilessly dashing to pieces my hope of covering a state championship game.

The blowout loss that I remember most, though, is the West Carteret football team’s 47-16 loss to Havelock on Oct. 24, 2014. It was my first football season on the job and my first road game of that fall. It was a dream matchup for a rookie reporter. Both teams were 8-1 going into the game, and I was hopeful.

I didn’t know much about the Havelock football program beyond the reputation that followed them after winning three straight 3A state championships. I had also never attended a Havelock football game before, and boy was I hooked from the moment I stepped foot on the field. Finally, this was the “Friday Night Lights” I had anticipated when football season began. The line to get into the game was massive, there was thick, swirling fog on the field and the home bleachers rose up to the tree line like a mountain made of people decked in black and white.

Up to that point, the only high school football offenses I were familiar with involved running and lots of it. West rushed for just under 3,000 yards that season, most of them by the legs of running back Tyrell Johnson and quarterback Jake Freeman, while Freeman threw for only 549 yards. The offensive line was also stacked that year, anchored by the likes of Charlie Rocci, Andrew Dale and Johnathon Black.

From the start, the game was an intense one. Both offenses clicked, although a few early mistakes kept West out of the end zone, while Havelock took advantage of signal-caller Travis Sabdo’s short slant throws and a deep stable of runners. Despite everything – the hype of the program, the incredible home-field advantage, the stacked Havelock roster – West only trailed 13-9 at halftime.

I was so excited I texted a handful of people and even called my sports editor, Dennis Thomason, just to relay the halftime score. It didn’t feel like either team had the momentum, and I wanted him to know that I had a big story cooking up for Sunday’s issue.

Bless my wide-eyed, innocent heart.

As it turned out, there was no story to be had with that game, much like 95 percent of the West-Havelock matchups before that one, and all of the ones that have followed. The Rams wound up outscoring the Patriots 34-7 in the second half to win 47-16.  

Since then, I’ve learned to compartmentalize my Havelock expectations. I can put it aside in the “let’s pretend this is a metropolitan program because that’s the level of talent we’re working with” corner of my mind. In the five matchups following that one in 2014, West has been outscored a combined 285-72. I haven’t covered another one since that was as competitive through the first 24 minutes.

Halftime hopes are dashed often in this job – although, technically, I’m not supposed to hope for either team to win – but I’ll never be able to replicate the innocence I felt for my old alma mater at halftime of that game.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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