First Posted: 1/15/2009
PEMBROKE — JoJo Blanks and Marlin Locklear sat next to each other looking disgusted. Purnell Swett’s play on its way to a 18-8 loss to Hoke County on Thursday certainly had something to do with their expressions.
But perhaps what was most upsetting the Rams top offensive and defensive players was that neither of the seniors could do anything about their teams’ woeful play against the Bucks.
Locklear was one of three Purnell Swett players suspended from Thursday’s game due to a missed practice earlier in the week. Blanks saw brief action against Hoke, leaving the game with what appeared to be an injury to his left ankle.
Rams coach Mark Heil tried to reassure his team following Blanks’ departure, saying at one point, “You guys can do this without JoJo and without Marlin.”
But that wasn’t the case.
“We just died out there,” Heil said. “We just didn’t have anything.”
The absence of Locklear, the team’s leading rusher, put the bulk of the pressure to get the offense going on sophomore quarterback Ethan Clark. The young signal-caller showed off his versatility in Purnell Swett’s blowout victory over St. Pauls last week by scoring three touchdowns.
Against Hoke County Clark’s lack of experience was the story. He threw four interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown as the Rams (2-1) were trying to mount a comeback.
“There are going to be nights like this for a young quarterback,” Heil said. “It was just his inexperience. He just threw some bad balls tonight.”
The night got off to a promising start for Purnell Swett. Blanks ended Hoke County’s first drive quickly with an interception, giving the Rams the ball in the Bucks’ territory.
But things unraveled quickly for Purnell Swett.
Just five plays after wresting the ball from their opponent, the Rams gave the ball back on a fumble by receiver Robert Cole. The Purnell Swett defense responded by forcing Hoke County to go three-and-out on its next series, but the Rams quickly squandered that opportunity by giving the ball right back on a muffed punt.
The Bucks (2-0) took advantage of Purnell Swett’s misfortunes, scoring on a 29-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Vernon to receiver Garry Baldwin to make it a 6-0 game.
After struggling to move the ball for most of the first half, it looked as if the Rams had broken through offensively when Clark connected with Brett Hunt for a 37-yard reception that put Purnell Swett on Hoke’s four-yard line.
But the Rams’ prosperity was short-lived. On the very next play, Purnell Swett gave the Bucks the ball on the one-yard line thanks to a fumble. The Rams defense did come through when D’Anteaus Williams tackled Hoke’s Antwain McGregor in the end zone for a safety.
But those two points would be all the scoring Purnell Swett could muster until late in the fourth quarter. By the time Clark hit Williams for a 30-yard touchdown reception, there was just 1:18 left to play and the Rams still trailed 18-8.
Heil said he felt bad that Locklear had to miss Thursday’s game, but the coach knew he had to enforce his rule about practice attendance.
“He’s a good kid,” Heil said. “He just found himself in a situation where he overslept. And a rule is a rule.”
As for Blanks, Heil didn’t think the reigning Robeson County defensive player of the year would be back on the field in the next week or two.
“We’re still not sure what it is,” Heil said. “Hopefully it’s not broken.”