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Red Barons stumble in red zone

GATESVILLE – Red jerseys…red pants…red helmets; the Red Barons of Gates County High School definitely made a colorful splash during their 2008 football season debut here Friday night.

About the only thing missing from the GCHS fashion wardrobe was a red zone offense as the ‘Barons found the endzone just once off four trips inside Edenton’s 20 yardline and dropped a 13-6 decision to the visiting Aces in the process.

From a statistical standpoint, the Red Barons dominated their Chowan County guests. Gates County more than doubled Edenton’s number of offensive snaps (69-to-33) and finished with more rushing yards (219-to-151), passing yards (59-to-57) and total yards (292-to-260). Of Edenton’s rushing total, 89 came on one play. Gates County’s biggest enemy was themselves as the Red Barons committed key penalties in critical spots plus had a possible go-ahead field goal blocked midway the fourth quarter.

“We played well enough to win, but mistakes here and there really hurt us at the most inopportune times,” Red Barons head coach Matt Biggy said. “We’ve got to cut down on those mistakes, especially in the red zone.

Trailing 7-6, Gates was piecing together another drive that began on the Red Barons 40 yardline following an Aces punt late in the third quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-15 play, GCHS called on old reliable – junior running back Damien Gatling, who was the game’s leading rusher with 31 carries for 124 yards. Gatling kept the drive alive with a 16-yard scamper to Edentons 49 yardline on the first snap of the fourth quarter.

From there, GCHS continued its ground attack, alternating between Gatling and fellow junior Akeem Lassiter (who added 92 yards for the game on 18 rushing attempts). The result was the Red Barons marching to the Aces six yardline with under seven minutes to play.

There, the yellow hankie flew…a critical holding penalty on the Red Barons, putting Gates in reverse to the 16. Two ensuing carries by Gatling forwarded the pigskin to the eight where the Barons faced a 4th-and-goal play.

After a time-out, Coach Biggy opted for sophomore Angelo Rossai to attempt a 23-yard field goal. The snap was good; the hold was good…the only thing missing was keeping the Aces at bay as Edenton’s Stephen White raced in untouched and blocked the kick.

Two snaps later from their own 11 yardline, Edenton broke the Red Barons collective heart with a play that would have made Harry Houdini envious. Fumbling a pitch, Deshon Fleming retreated to the two yardline to retrieve the loose pigskin. There, two GCHS defenders had the Edenton runner dead in their sights, nearly tackling him for a safety, but Fleming miraculously escaped, headed towards the Aces sideline where, finding a wall of friendly blockers, turned upfield and dashed 89 yards to paydirt. The PAT was blocked, but Edenton had some breathing room with a 13-6 lead with 5:03 left in the game.

Gates County tried to bounce back. Using four carries for 20 yards by Lassiter, the Red Barons reached Edenton’s 40 yardline where they surrendered possession on loss of downs with 1:35 left. From there, the Aces ran out the clock to preserve the win.

The first three drives of the game by the Red Barons all penetrated the Edenton red zone, but Gates only cashed in on one of those opportunities. That came on their second series of the game where thanks to a 16-yard punt return by Gatling to the Aces 24 yardline, GCHS had to only use five plays to strike paydirt. That came on Jamal Dixons one-yard run, set-up by a key 17-yard pass from Graham Hobbs to Dixon. Rossais PAT just missed wide right, but the Barons had the early 6-0 lead at the 2:15 mark of the first quarter.

Hobbs and Dixon were also bright spots for the GCHS offense. The two connected four times for 59 yards through the air during the game.

Drives number one and three (ones that combined for 116 yards on 24 total snaps) also showed promise, but the Red Barons lost possession on downs both times – respectively at Edenton’s 10 and nine yardlines. Untimely penalties killed both drives as the Red Barons were flagged for illegal motion at the 12 yardline on the first drive and were caught holding at the Aces 10 yardline during their third trip downfield.

Meanwhile, GCHS’ aggressive defense was preventing the Edenton from establishing any type of offense (the Aces had only 17 offensive snaps in the first half for a total of 62 yards). It was Edenton’s defense that got the Aces on the scoreboard when, with under 20 seconds left in the first half, defender Niko Capehart stepped in front of a Hobbs pass and raced 52 yards to paydirt. Coupled with Corey Sackrison’s PAT, Edenton held a 7-6 edge at the break.

Gates County will look to bounce back later this week when the Red Barons travel to Currituck County High School for a 7:30 p.m. battle with the Knights on Friday, Aug. 29.

“We’ll show the kids the game film on Monday, show them how little mistakes add-up to big things,” Biggy closed. “We’ll work through those mistakes and get ready for Currituck.”