STATESVILLE — Dudley’s calling card in this year’s NCHSAA Class 3-A football playoffs has been defense, and Friday night was no exception as the Panthers held previously unbeaten Statesville to 82 yards in the first half and came home with a 20-6 victory.
After hitting the road Friday night, third-seeded Dudley (13-1) will be home next Friday night against No. 16 seed Belmont South Point (11-3) in the West Regional final.
The Panthers have given up just 87 points this season and 26 in four playoff games. The key to that dominance has been a defense that came into the game with 90 sacks and added three to that total, while also intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble.
Coach Steven Davis said he was confident his defense could take away the run against No. 2 seed Statesville (12-1) and it did, particularly in the first half, when the Greyhounds could only muster 27 yards on 19 rushes.
“We liked our front seven against their group and it showed all night,” Dudley’s coach said. “Other than their quarterback scrambling around – and he’s a good athlete, give him credit – we did the job. Six points against an undefeated team is not bad.”
Statesville quarterback Zamari Stevenson rushed for 37 yards and completed 19 of 31 passes for 168 yards, but 12 of his completions came in the second half when the Greyhounds were in desperation mode.
Dudley hit the hosts with a big play on their first snap after the defense forced a three-and-out to open the game. Jahmier Slade, the Panthers’ senior quarterback, kept the ball on a zone read and went 79 yards to the Statesville 5. One play later, K.J. Morehead scored on an off-tackle run.
“The end went with my running back, so I just pulled it and there was nothing but green grass,” said Slade, who finished with 155 yards on 10 carries, many of them on the zone read.
“We thought the end was getting up the field a lot and we were just going to read him,” Davis said. “If we went, we’d pull it, and if he stayed we’d give it. Jahmier did a good job of reading it on that play.”
Dudley hit another big play when Slade found R.J. Baker wide open behind the Statesville secondary for a 74-yard touchdown pass with 8:45 left in the half. That was all the Panthers needed on a night when their defense was fast and physical.
They needed a strong defensive game because of the penalties that bogged down their offense for most of the night. Dudley finished with 423 yards, but was penalized 17 times for 108 yards, including a mind-boggling 11 illegal-procedure calls.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Davis said of the procedure penalties, but he added, “We definitely have to clean it up this week. We’re going to work on it like crazy in practice and hopefully have it cleaned up by Friday.”
The Panthers also lost a number of players to injuries, including starting running back Michael Shaw, who suffered an apparent concussion in the third quarter.
“The injury bug hit us a little bit, but they fought,” Davis said. “The guys who came into the game when their number was called stepped up.”
Dudley will be at J.A. Tarpley Stadium for the regional final Friday against a South Point team that beat Eastern Guilford, a rival of Dudley in the Mid-State 3-A conference, 41-31 in the first round of the playoffs.
“It feels amazing!” Slade said.
Dudley — QB Jahmier Slade 7-of-13 passing, 137 yards, 2 TDs, INT, 10 carries, 155 yards; ATH R.J. Baker 2 catches, 93 yards, 2 TDs; DB Steven Davis II INT.
Statesville — QB Zamari Stevenson 19-of-31 passing 168 yards, INT, 15 carries, 37 yards; RB J.Z. Harrison-Connor 16 carries, 60 yards, TD, 10 catches, 51 yards.
Dudley 6 6 0 8 — 20
Statesville 0 0 0 6 — 6
D – K.J. Morehead 5 run (kick failed), 1st, 8:40
D – R.J. Baker 74 pass from Jahmier Slade (run failed), 2nd, 8:45
D – Baker 18 pass from Slade (Nasir Newkirk pass from Slade), 4th, 7:28
S – J.Z. Harrison-Connor 4 run (kick blocked), 4th, 5:57
Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraSports on Twitter.