Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
In its first varsity football meeting with Greenville Rose, Southern Nash piled up 572 yards of offense and steamed to its fifth straight win to start the season with a 55-21 triumph at Firebird Stadium on Friday night.
Senior halfback Quinton Cooley rushed for a season-high 308 yards on 27 carries to lead Southern Nash. Cooley ran for three touchdowns and fell on teammate Jackson Vick’s fumble into the end zone for another TD for the 3-A Big East Conference Firebirds. Rose, picked to win the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, stumbled to 2-3 with its third straight loss.
The 3-A Rampants did accomplish what no other Southern Nash opponent has this season — have a lead against the Firebirds. Rose took the opening kickoff and marched down the field in less than three minutes with senior Shaquan Perry powering into the end zone from four yards, followed by Conner Shupe’s extra-point kick.
Cooley answered with a 35-yard TD run and Evan Barnes booted the first of six PATs to tie the score with 6:31 on the first-quarter clock. Cooley gave Southern Nash the lead on a 1-yard TD dive in the final seconds of the quarter.
Senior quarterback Matt Foster scrambled 15 yards for another TD in the second quarter before Cooley pounced on Vick’s fumble just before crossing the goal line to give the Firebirds a 28-7 halftime lead.
Perry’s second TD for Rose halved Southern Nash’s lead in the third quarter but Cooley galloped 36 yards for his fourth TD on the night on the ensuing possession. Foster then linked up with Vick on a 28-yard scoring connection as the Firebirds began to pull away.
Senior Shaunden Mitchell had a 1-yard TD run and junior Jalen McCalston picked off a Rose pass and zipped 49 yards for the Firebirds’ second interception return TD in as many games in the fourth quarter.
Wade Jarman’s 15-yard TD run with 11 seconds remaining completed the scoring for Rose.
The Firebirds wrap up nonconference play this Friday at Jacksonville Northside while the Rampants kick off ECC action at unbeaten New Bern.
COOLEY’S LEGEND GROWS
While Cooley’s 308 rushing yards in the Firebirds’ 55-21 win at home might be the highest single-game total in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association ranks this season, it’s not even close to his career high. Cooley set that with 403 yards in the Firebirds’ second-round playoff loss to Eastern Alamance last season, accomplished with a dislocated shoulder that he kept popping back into its socket throughout the game.
However, the Wake Forest University commit is ranked No. 1 in the state in rushing yards across all associations by MaxPreps with 917. Cooley is averaging 183.4 through five games for the unbeaten Firebirds and 12.6 per tote. He is unlikely to break the Southern Nash career mark of 5,073 set by former teammate Zonovan “Bam” Knight, but Cooley is on pace to challenge Knight’s single-season program record of 2,054 yards set last season. Now a freshman at N.C. State University, Knight is leading the Wolfpack in rushing.
Cooley, who played defense and special teams as a sophomore in 2017, may end up as the all-time leader in all-purpose yards at Southern Nash. He currently has 4,118.
Cooley also has scored 398 career points, per the Firebirds stats on MaxPreps.
FIREBIRDS CRUISE TO 5-0
Southern Nash looks poised to complete its third unbeaten run in nonconference play in four years as the Firebirds conclude that portion of their schedule Friday at Jacksonville Northside (2-2). The Firebirds easily cleared last week’s hurdle against the Rampants, who were picked to win their 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference but have now lost three in a row after a 2-0 start.
Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said he felt Friday’s outing was the best his team has played as a whole this season with more players getting into the mix on defense and the offense playing with more emotion.
The Firebirds piled up 502 rushing yards, a season high, and threw for 70 more, but it was not a season-high total. That came in week 2 when they amassed 581 yards (457 rushing, 124 passing) in a 59-14 win over Nash Central. While Rose gained 322 yards, Foster was happy with his defense.
He commended senior linebacker Cam Thompson, sophomore Jackson Vick, senior Jason Bland and senior Izaiah Walker-Warren for their efforts on defense.
The Southern Nash reserves also played better. They did give up a late TD, a 15-yard scramble by Rose QB Wade Jarman with 27 seconds left, but that was it.
“We want to make sure those kids are deserving to be out there,” Foster said. “They need to make sure they’re living up to their end of the bargain, too.”