Let’s address the elephant in the room before we go any further.
Scotland head coach Richard Bailey made the right call when he decided to send the offense back onto the field on fourth-and-2 at the North Davidson 48-yard line with a little more than 90 seconds left in the game.
The Scots were nursing a 42-39 lead at the time against the visiting Knights and were one first-down conversion away from milking the remaining time off the clock and advancing to the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs. North Davidson had no timeouts left and couldn’t stop the clock on defense.
Scotland running back Zamir White, arguably one of the top high school football players in the country, had little trouble picking apart the North Davidson defense up to that point. The sophomore returned from a knee injury, suffered against Richmond Senior, to put up a ridiculous stat line against the Knights — 27 rushes for 237 yards and four touchdowns to go along with one catch for 26 yards and another score.
Earlier in the drive, Bailey called quarterback Dashaun Ferguson’s number on a designed run to pick up a third-and-1 conversion. On the fourth-down call, Bailey elected to put the ball in White’s reliable hands on a jet sweep, but the North Davidson defense blew up the play and stopped it for no gain.
That set the stage for the late-game heroics from the Knights’ offense. Quarterback Joe Butts directed a three-play scoring drive that ended with the go-ahead 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Kennedy McKoy with 38 seconds remaining.
While the decision to go for it was risky, it’s easy for spectators to look back now and say it was the wrong choice. Hindsight is 20/20, and Bailey lamented after the game that he wishes he could redo that fateful play. Was it really that difficult of a decision?
Dating back to the second half of the Richmond game, Scotland had allowed 96 points in its last 10 quarters. If you include North Davidson’s game-winning touchdown that goes up to 103. This wasn’t the same defensive unit that carried the team at the beginning of the season, partly due to injuries, a lack of depth in the secondary, and because the competition was simply better than it was earlier in the year.
While Butts didn’t rack up many rushing yards against Scotland, he proved to be elusive in the pocket and excelled at extending plays, much like Richmond’s Leon Zeigler and Davie’s Chris Reynolds when they faced the Scots the previous two weeks. Those three signal callers combined for 10 total touchdowns against Bailey’s squad. After Reynolds shredded the Scotland defense to the tune of 371 total yards, Butts followed with 302 through the air.
Had Scotland punted the ball back to the Knights, North Davidson still would have had plenty of time to drive down the field and potentially tie the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown. Who’s to say the Scots’ defense would have fared any better while defending a longer field than it did on a short field?
Bailey said it best postgame.
“If we gave it to them on the 20, they were just going to go 80 (yards),” he said. “We’re not stopping them. They still ended up throwing it over our heads at the 50. That was the thinking going into it.”
On North Davidson’s game-winning drive, Butts connected with receiver Nygil Dalton for a 45-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage. Regardless of field position, a play like that makes it a whole lot easier to put points on the scoreboard. Despite having no means of stopping the clock, the Knights found the end zone in 55 seconds.
Another aspect to look at when dissecting Bailey’s decision — would a punt have been as safe as it sounds? Scotland kicker Grant Ciarrocca rarely had to boot the ball away to opposing teams this season. When your offense is averaging 40.2 points per game, it’s not often that you have to take the field for a punt.
Against North Davidson, Ciarrocca trotted out for two punts and the Knights came close to blocking both. At the high school level, botched kicks and special teams mistakes often occur, and given the Scots’ offensive firepower and who they feature in the backfield, it’s a lot easier to trust a top-flight running back than it is a rarely-used kicker.
Bailey mentioned after the loss he was wary of a potential special teams blunder.
“When you punt in high school you also risk getting it blocked, a bad snap, all those things factored in as well,” he said.
Before you look to point fingers and place blame on the Scotland coaching staff and players — or both — perhaps it’s best to step back, assess the situation and realize that North Davidson just made the plays it needed to make Friday night to pull off the upset at Pate Stadium.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.