HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Blue Devils fall in close encounter with South Caldwell in home opener

Maiden’s Dylan Abernethy makes one of his two interceptions against South Caldwell in front of the Spartans’ Spencer Piercy during the first quarter on Friday. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

Defense sometimes can overrule the outcome of a game as was the case in the Maiden Blue Devils’ home opener against South Caldwell on Friday, August 30.

The Blue Devils (1-1) will head into September looking to put this contest behind them after falling to the visiting Spartans (2-0) in a nail-biter, 14-13.

It was the first time that Maiden fell in its home opener since its loss against Lincolnton, 35-10, on August 19, 2011. It was also the host-team's third-straight loss against South Caldwell.

Maiden opened up this O-N-E Game of the Week match-up with the ball as South Caldwell chose to defer.

Neither the Spartans or the Blue Devils could connect on its first set of downs in the first quarter, ending the period scoreless.

Nevertheless, the Blue Devils’ defense was a presence in the first half as senior defensive back, Dylan Abernethy picked off Spartans’ junior quarterback Avery Raynor twice (once at the end of the first quarter and once in the second quarter). Also on defense, Maiden’s Brennan James earned himself an interception in the end zone in the loss.

"Defensively we made adjustments in the second half and thought we played better in the second half as we only gave up 14 points," said Blue Devils' head coach, Will Byrne. "If you only give up 14 points, you (usually) got a win. We turned it over offensively and we had way too many penalties offensively and just didn't execute offensively. That's kind of the opposite of last week (against Fred T. Foard). Now we got to bring them both together.

"But kudos to South Caldwell. They got a good football team. They're big, physical and they got some good football players."

Offensively, the Blue Devils looked to push the pace on the ground as running back, Amarion Craig rushed for 57 yards on 18 carries on the night.

As for behind center, Maiden’s sophomore quarterback Ethan Rhodes finished 13-for-20 with 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception (coming on Maiden’s final possession in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.) Rhodes even got in on the stat sheet with a punt in the second quarter.

Rhodes’ TD pass was a 34-yarder to Abernethy on the second play of the second quarter to take the lead, 7-0, at the time. Abernethy garnered 105 yards on six receptions in the match-up.

"(Dylan Abernethy's) the leader of the team offensively," said Byrne. "Offensively, they're double-teaming him all over the place. They had a good game-plan, and we figured they were going to key on him and some other guys (like) Brennan James stepped up offensively and made a bunch of catches...We ran the ball somewhat effectively and we got to where we were throwing (the ball) pretty well in the second half because they were keying so much on Dylan. We were starting to find some other receivers."

James finished with 57 yards on three receptions -- all coming in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils' defensive anchor, Chris Morgan also got in on the reception column of the stat sheet with a 4-yard grab in the third quarter.

On the other side, although he had problems getting past the Blue Devils' defense through the air, Raynor was the go-to on the ground as he obtained 117 yards, including a 3-yard rushing TD that put his Spartans up 14-7 with 10:56 remaining in the game. Also coming to the aid in the run game for South Caldwell was running back Spencer Piercy, finishing with 73 yards (236 team total rushing yards).

The Blue Devils' attempted its comeback on its next drive making its way down into the red zone after beginning on its own 23-yard line. The 10-play series was capped off by 4-yard rushing TD by running back, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas finished with six yards on two carries. The coaching staff decided to go for two instead of the PAT as there was only 6:32 left in the contest.

However, the two-point conversion attempt began rocky as Maiden earned a 5-yard penalty for an illegal shift of a player. Following the loss of yards, Rhodes stepped back in the pocket and tossed one into the end zone only to be picked off by the Spartans. Maiden trailed 13-14.

This wasn't the Blue Devils' last opportunity in the game to pull off a win though as junior strong safety, Chayson Bass picked off Raynor with a little under three minutes remaining to set his team up on its own 36-yard line.The biggest play of what would be Maiden's final 7-play drive came on a 33-yard slinger by Rhodes to James, but that would be the only positive in the drive filled with a 5-yard penalty for an illegal player downfield and three incomplete passes by Rhodes.

With 1:41 left in the game, Rhodes tried to get the ball to one of his hot-hands, Abernethy, but instead slung one to the opposition to close out his evening. After that, the Spartans took four knees and the game was a wrap.

"(Ethan needs to) just stay poised and focused," said Byrne. "He's going to be fine. I mean, he's a sophomore. He made a couple of mistakes last week -- very few mistakes. This week, he made some mistakes, but he's going to learn from them and he's going to get better."

Next up for Maiden is a road match-up with a winless Bunker Hill squad on Friday, September 6 at 7:30 p.m.

*Story updated on Sunday, September 1, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.*