With the expectations that Scotland fans and the Fighting Scots themselves have placed on the next few weeks of playoff football, Friday night’s 40-5 victory over East Chapel Hill must have felt like a sigh of relief.
Heavily favored entering their 4A first round contest against the Wildcats, Scotland shut the door on East Chapel Hill almost as quickly as the game began, scoring on the second play from scrimmage and only continuing to pile on from there.
All 40 of the Scots’ points were scored in the first half of regulation, and by the time the third quarter began, nearly all of Scotland’s starters stood on the sidelines soaking in the lopsided victory.
“I’m only basing this game on the first half when our starters were playing,” Scotland coach Richard Bailey said. “We simply handled business out there, but things get exponentially harder for us going forward.”
For most run-intensive offenses, a 212-yard, three-touchdown performance would indicate a successful evening on the whole.
The Fighting Scots compiled this stat line in the first quarter alone.
On the second play of Scotland’s first offensive series, sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe would torch the Wildcats’ defensive backfield with a 77-yard keeper to score within the first minute of regulation. It was precursor of what was to come, as Scotland’s athleticism clearly presented a mismatch for East Chapel Hill.
In fact, Scotland scored three touchdowns in their first six combined plays from scrimmage alone. In addition to Ratliffe’s first run, Scotland running back Josh McPhatter found a huge seam in the middle of the field and blew past the Wildcats’ defense for a 65-yard rushing touchdown on the very next series.
When the final seconds of the quarter ticked off, Ratliffe had compiled 127 yards on the ground with two scores, while McPhatter added 85 yards on just three carries.
“This felt like a regular season game to me in a lot of ways,” said Ratliffe after his team’s rout of East Chapel Hill. “I got a lot of great blocks from my teammates that set up those big run plays. Moving ahead, we just need to take it step by step to win a ring, and I know we can do it.”
To the Wildcats’ credit, freshman quarterback Connor Stough (in for former senior QB Ben Jones who departed the team before the end of the season) was successful at moving the football on East Chapel Hill’s opening drive. Demonstrating his elusiveness in the pocket, Stough would compile 27 rushing yards of his own on the first drive, which set up a 40-yard field goal from the foot of the Wildcats’ Kieran Sweeney.
It was East Chapel Hill’s only score of the half, as Scotland emphatically put the game away in short order once the Scots’ defense settled into their dominant groove.
The Scotland pass rush bullied the line of scrimmage for the entire half of regulation, led by the Fighting Scots defensive line. Stough’s first mistake of the game came after the freshman suffered a brutal hit by Scotland interior lineman Ed Cain while attempting a throw to the middle of the field. Scotland inside linebacker Chris Moss intercepted Stough’s pass and returned it to East Chapel Hill’s 31-yard line. Fellow defensive lineman Tyran Murphy and Shy’Keim Oliver each registered hits on Stough in the first quarter as well, as Scotland consistently won the battle up front throughout the half.
Things only continued to get worse for East Chapel Hill on Scotland’s very first play of the second quarter from the Wildcats’ own 22-yard line. As he has all season, Scotland wide receiver Tra’Shawn Gregory once again demonstrated his nose for the end zone, easily putting distance between himself and the secondary for a perfectly placed 22-yard touchdown pass from Ratliffe.
On the ensuing kickoff roughly midway through the second quarter, Scotland outside linebacker Artemis Robinson was flagged for a late hit which gave the Wildcats offensive possession near mid-field.
But a few plays later, Robinson redeemed himself when he jumped the route of an attempted Stough slant pass and picked the young QB off for the second time of the night. Not content with just giving his prolific offense another possession, Robinson would outrun the entire East Chapel Hill offense for a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown.
All the while his older brother and current Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Terrell Manning watched from the stands.
“I knew with my family watching it was time to make a play,” Robinson said. “I’m going to tell him later that I looked a lot like him out there, only a little bit better!”
After a methodical offensive drive that contrasted the lightning quick scores of the first quarter, a one-yard Ratliffe touchdown run with just under five minutes left in the first half was Scotland’s final points of the game. Entering halftime with a 40-3 lead, the Scots had done more than enough to secure the victory and move ahead to next week’s second round opponent Lee County, who defeated Terry Sanford in a battle of four and five-seeds Friday night.