LAUREL HILL — The heavyweight bout between Scotland and Richmond county programs is set to take place at the end of the week, but Carver and Hamlet gave fans an early taste of what is to come when the two middle schools clashed Wednesday on the gridiron.
The Eagles and Red Rams battled for the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference championship, and it was Carver that notched a win for Scotland County. James McLean’s team jumped out to a 22-0 lead and held on for a 22-8 victory against the visitors from Richmond County.
The victory was Carver’s third conference title in four years and the schools’ seventh overall. Last season, the Eagles were trounced 36-16 by Rockingham Middle in the championship game.
“I have a lot of emotions,” McLean said. “I’m just so excited for this group — last year we lost the championship over in Richmond County and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. So this was redemption.”
Carver drew first blood in the opening quarter when Jamauri Wall ran for a 40-yard touchdown. He also scored the two-point conversion to give the Eagles an early 8-0 advantage. With a minute left in the first, Carver forced the first turnover of the game when LaShawn Tyson Smith intercepted a pass thrown by Hamlet’s Joerail Little.
In the second quarter, the Red Rams had their first positive play of the contest when Blake Hall picked off Wall. But two minutes later, Kris McLean intercepted a Little pass to give the ball right back to the Eagles.
“They came out and they were striking tonight — those were forced turnovers, they weren’t just kids giving up the football,” McLean said.
Both teams were unable to find the end zone in the second quarter, and Carver maintained its 8-0 lead heading into halftime.
Little tossed another interception on the Red Ram’s opening possession of the second half. J.J. McLean returned it the other way for a touchdown, diving past the pylon before he could be tackled. Wall tacked on the two-point conversion to put the Eagles on top 16-0 with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Hamlet coughed up the rock for a fourth time when it fumbled on the ensuing kickoff. The Eagles recovered the ball and eventually capitalized on the turnover, as Antwon Smith punched the ball into the end zone on a run from one yard out. Carver failed to convert the two-point attempt, but still held a 22-0 lead with a little over two minutes in the third quarter.
In the fourth, the Eagles played keep away by running the ball effectively when it had possession.
Hamlet was able to score before the game ended when Little threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Azariah Roseboro halfway through the final quarter.
Carver forced one more turnover before the contest reached its conclusion — Deandre McKinnon intercepted a Little pass on the Red Rams’ final offensive series.
“Our guys were dedicated from the jump, I have not had a group of kids that worked as hard as this group. It’s very satisfying to see them win,” McLean.
Once the final whistle sounded, several Carver players mobbed McLean and showered him with Gatorade in celebration. He flashed a smile, but made sure to remind his players to fall in line and shake the hands of the players and coaches from Hamlet.
“I wore an extra shirt in anticipation hoping I was going to get (the Gatorade bath),” McLean said. “I told them my phone better work after this. But it was well worth it.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.