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ROCKY MOUNT — Led by a strong defensive effort and another outstanding performance by senior wingback Quinton Cooley, Southern Nash High claimed its 20th consecutive varsity football win in 3-A Big East Conference regular-season play with a 35-14 defeat of host Rocky Mount on Friday.
The Firebirds, now 10-0 overall and 4-0 in conference games, clinched at least a share of their fourth straight Big East title and can post their fourth unbeaten league season in a row with a win at home next Friday, Nov. 8, against last-place Franklinton.
“When you consider what we used to be,” said Brian Foster, who is in his 22nd season as head coach but didn’t have a winning season until his eighth. “I know our kids now don’t know anything about that but I do. That’s a credit to our kids and our coaches. They do a great job and we try to do it right. Hopefully that’ll be something that continues.”
The Gryphons, the last Big East team to beat Southern Nash, exited 7-3 and 3-1.
Cooley piled up 192 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, giving him 2,102 yards and 34 TDs on the ground this season. That breaks the Firebirds single-season rushing record set last year by Zonovan Knight, currently a freshman at N.C. State University.
Southern Nash, ranked fourth among state 3-A teams by The Associated Press, attacked the Gryphons right away. Sophomore wingback Jackson Vick darted 55 yards on the first series for the game’s first TD. Senior Evan Barnes booted the extra point and, later in the first quarter, was true on a 27-yard field-goal attempt to put the Firebirds up 10-0.
Cooley powered in from a yard with 7:37 to play in the second quarter and Barnes’ PAT gave Southern Nash what would be an insurmountable 17-0 lead.
The Gryphons finally broke through on senior quarterback Jaquan Lynch’s 29-yard TD pass to senior Antwain Dunston with 6:45 to go before halftime.
Southern Nash added a safety in the final minute of the half when a snap sailed over the Rocky Mount punter’s head and into the end zone where he was able to fall on it.
Cooley added TD runs of 4 and 12 yards in the second half with quarterback Matt Foster providing the two-point conversion after the first one and Cooley tacking on the two points himself after the second one early in the fourth quarter.
The Gryphons’ other TD came on a 35-yard interception return by junior Justin Terry. It was just the second pick Foster has thrown all season.
Southern Nash piled up 370 rushing yards with Vick adding 75 on seven carries and Foster contributing 62 yards on 10 carries.
The Firebirds limited the Gryphons to just 64 rushing yards and 107 through the air.
“I thought with the exception of a couple of plays, it was by far our best performance of the year,” Foster said of his defense, which had a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. “It just made sure they didn’t have a chance to get back in it. It was something that we needed.”
The only negative for Foster was too many penalties. The Firebirds were flagged 12 times for 104 yards.
“Penalties are killing us,” he said. “It is really frustrating and hopefully we can find it on film and get better from it.”