LAURINBURG — Defense was Scotland’s calling card last season, but the unit had yet to put together a trademark performance through the team’s first three games this year.
After the Scots’ 14-6 home win against Jack Britt Friday, it’s safe to say that is no longer the case.
Linebacker Jonathan Smith, corner Trevon Gibson and safety Manny Smith spearheaded a dominant performance for a defense that held a Buccaneers offense that entered the contest averaging 37 points per game to one score.
“Defensively I’m proud of our guys, our secondary held up,” said Scotland coach Richard Bailey. “Trevon Gibson was everywhere we needed him tonight, I thought he played incredible. Jonathan Smith continues to be Jonathan Smith.”
Jack Britt had one final opportunity to potentially tie the game on its last drive, but turned the ball over on downs at Scotland’s 41-yard line with 25 seconds left.
The Scots needed the defense to live up to its lofty reputation because the offense only managed two touchdowns and went scoreless in the second half despite the return of starting quarterback Dashaun Ferguson. The senior missed Scotland’s first three games with a torn PCL in his left knee.
“We looked like we didn’t know what we were doing (on offense),” Bailey said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way and as the head coach I take responsibility for that. You have to give Jack Britt credit, they moved around a little bit tonight, gave us some things we hadn’t seen.”
Bailey mentioned after Thursday’s walkthrough it would be a “grind-it-out” contest against the school he coached at for 12 years before joining Scotland in 2012, and it played out that way from the opening kickoff.
On Scotland’s second play from scrimmage, Randy Leak bobbled the ball on a jet sweep and Jack Britt’s LJ Melvin scooped it up and returned it 65 yards for a touchdowns, but it was called back due to a personal foul penalty.
But on the Bucs’ following offensive possession, CJ Davis fumbled to give it right back to the Scots, who converted the miscue into seven points. Zamir White capped a 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive with a 2-yard score to give Scotland the lead with 6:04 in the first quarter.
Scotland extended its advantage to two scores when White punched it into the end zone for the second time, this one from four yards out with 8:40 left in the second quarter.
Jack Britt was unable to create any offensive rhythm through the first 23 minutes of the game, even with the opening day starter Cormega Copening back under center, who returned from a two-game suspension. But the Bucs caught the break they needed with 12 seconds before halftime.
Scotland lined up for a punt, but the snap sailed over Grant Ciarrocca’s head and he fell on the ball at his own 3-yard line. With five seconds left in the half, Bucs running back Jacquel Webster glided into the end zone for a much-needed Jack Britt score. The Bucs were unable to tack on the extra point, however.
“You can’t take that touchdown down there before half,” Bailey said. “You got to take a safety, do something other than get tackled at the 1-yard line.”
In the second half, both teams traded punts or failed to convert on 4th-down attempts. Ferguson completed 6 of 9 passes for 117 yards in the first half for the Scots, but only managed to connect on one of his next four as the Scotland offense stalled.
Ferguson said after the game it felt good to get back on the field, but that the offense needed some work. And what’s the prognosis on the knee?
“It felt good, I have a little pain every now and then but I’m good,” he said.
The combination of Copening and Bryan Bryant at quarterback didn’t fair much better for the Bucs, and on their final possession, Copening threw three straight incompletions in Scotland territory to seal the win for the host team.
“I’m proud of our kids and the coaching staff, and we’re 4-0 and that’s all that matters,” Bailey said. “What’s that old saying, you are what your record says you are? Well, our record says we’re 4-0.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.