RED SPRINGS — Red Springs broke loose in a close game during the second half to defeat county rival Purnell Swett 22-8.
During the preseason, Red Springs football coach Ron Cook talked about his team developing a “linked up” mentality, emphasizing that his squad is only going to be as good as its weakest link.
On Friday night against Purnell Swett, Cook saw that chain become stronger.
“Tonight we didn’t have any weak links,” Cook said after his team won. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
It was a historic win for the Red Devils (2-0), who claimed their first victory ever over the Rams (0-2).
“It’s great for the school and our program,” Cook said.
“It’s a huge boost to our confidence and a recruiting tool. We share middle school players (with Purnell Swett) so it’s huge for us to get a big win like this.”
The Red Devils used a dominating defensive performance to stifle the Rams offense. Sophomore Jerome Bass led the relentless attack with two sacks and five tackles for a loss.
It was a performance he hopes will help the upperclassmen get off his back.
“I’m always getting trashed by them since I’m a sophomore,” Bass said.
“It felt pretty good to see the hard work pay off. We’re linked up now and playing as a team.”
To Cook, Bass isn’t your typical sophomore player.
“Jerome acts like a senior,” Cook said. “He goes all out. They just couldn’t block him tonight. He’ll be trouble for a lot of teams this year.”
While Bass turned in the most impressive performance defensively, senior Damian Hunt provided the play of the game in the third quarter.
Hunt broke an 8-8 tie in the third quarter, jumping a route on defense, snagging an interception and taking it to the house for a 37-yard score. The pick six gave the Red Devils a 16-8 lead after a two-point conversion and they wouldn’t trail again.
Offensively the Red Devils struggled for most of the night, but junior quarterback Toddrick Lockhart provided just enough to give the team a spark.
Lockhart finished with a pair of touchdown passes, including a 15-yard screen pass to Amire West on fourth down that gave the Red Devils a 22-8 lead with 7:30 to play for the final tally.
“Toddrick grew up and matured tonight with his decision making,” Cook said. “He just needed our receivers to catch a few more balls.”
For Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman, the Rams defense did enough to warrant a victory, aside from two plays.
“Our defense did a helluva job,” he said. “We got lost on a screen and had the pick for a touchdown that hurt us. Our defense fought till the end.”
The Rams forced an early safety on a botched punt attempt by the Red Devils, taking a 2-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Offensively, Purnell Swett had little trouble moving the ball in the second quarter behind quarterback Lucas Oxendine, who extended the lead to 8-0 after a 17-yard touchdown run. But the Rams suffered a big blow when Oxendine didn’t return after the half due to concussion-like symptoms.
“We moved pretty good in the first half,” Sherman said. “When our quarterback goes down it’s tough. He’s our machine.”
Trailing 8-0 with under a minute to play in the first half, Lockhart busted out for a 35-yard run to give the Red Devils some momentum. Later in the drive, Lockhart connected with Hallman from 12 yards out to put Red Springs on the board with 15 seconds left in the half. A pass from Freeman to West tied the game at 8-8 heading into the break.
The Rams still had their opportunities when Luke Oxendine and Desmond Davis split time at the position in the second half. The team dropped a pair of touchdown passes late in the contest that could have changed the momentum.
Moving forward, Sherman is hopeful that his squad will become a closer group.
“We just have to be a tighter family,” he said. “We have to ignore the outside stuff, get better and keep fighting. That’s all we can do.”
Sacks by Christian Strong, Austin Fairley and Deondre Hallman kept the Rams at bay late in the contest. Caleb Locklear pulled down an interception with 1:35 left to play to seal the victory for the hosts.
“We hung in there,” Cook said. We played our tails off.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.