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Quick Take: New Bern 40, Grimsley 28

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Grimsley New Bern (copy)

Grimsley coach Darryl Brown consoles sophomore running back Mitchell Summers, the Whirlies' offensive MVP of Friday night's NCHSAA Class 4-A football championship game. Mitchell rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown, but Grimsley lost to New Bern, 40-28.

New Bern’s running game is too much for Grimsley as the Whirlies fall 40-28 in the NCHSAA Class 4-A football championship game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.

Why the Whirlies lost

Grimsley simply couldn’t stop New Bern’s triple-option offense. Whether the Bears were running from a spread formation or an old-school wishbone, they were just too physical and too fast for the Whirlies’ defense. New Bern never attempted a pass, but the Bears never needed to throw because they were able to run for 394 yards on 54 attempts (7.3 yards per carry).

“When we were pulling up in Chapel Hill there was a car in front of our bus and the license plate on the back said ‘RUN N WIN,’” New Bern coach Torrey Nowell said. “It was like, how ironic is that? … In a world full of spread teams, I think it’s pretty difficult for guys to handle people running at them the whole time.”

On offense, Grimsley struggled to throw the football, with senior quarterback Ryan Stephens only completing five of 16 passes for 102 yards, and 85 of those yards came on a fourth-quarter touchdown to Terrell Anderson. The one interception Stephens threw actually bounced off Anderson’s hands on a slant in the first quarter.

“We just missed a couple of throws,” Brown said. “They’re good up front, so they create a lot of pressure. Then they get in your face and play man coverage with safeties over the top, which is extremely tough to get a passing game going against. When they do that, you hope you can run the ball, but they also did an really good job on that with their linebackers.”

The Whirlies were able to rush for 155 yards, but they were never able to break the kind of long runs that have been a staple of their offense during these playoffs. They also failed to convert in the red zone at the end of the first half when they turned the ball over on downs at the New Bern 15 down 20-14.

Why the Bears won

New Bern’s powerful ground game was in full effect. Coach Torrey Nowell’s team finished the year with 6,219 yards on the ground, one of the top five single-season rushing totals in NCHSAA history. QB Damaree Tucker made great reads all night and finished 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including the clincher when he went 36 yards on third-and-11 with 33 seconds to play.

“People ask: ‘Why the triple-option?’” Nowell said. “Because we want to be different, because we don’t want to be like everybody else.”

Defensively, the Bears managed to keep the Grimsley running game in check despite using their safeties to help on Whirlies wide receivers Alex Taylor and Terrell Anderson. Tackles K.J. Sampson (Florida State commit) and Taevion Cox controlled the middle of the line, and LB No’Tavien Green cleaned up everything on the outside, forced a fumble and picked off a pass.

“Amari Birth has been playing incredibly in the playoffs,” Nowell said of his senior cornerback. "This kid has covered (Rolesville’s Ohio State commit) Noah Rogers, the kid at Millbrook (Nathan Leacock) who’s going to Tennessee.”

The big plays

Coming up empty from the New Bern 15 in the closing moments of the first half was crushing for Grimsley. Stephens was unable to connect on two passes to Taylor and one to Anderson. The most frustrating was an overthrow of Anderson on a double-move to the back left-corner of the end zone when he had beaten coverage.

New Bern held, then forced a three-and-out after kicking off to the Whirlies to start the second half. One play after Taylor’s punt, Aronne Herring got around left end, then cut back to the right and ran 66 yards for a TD. Grimsley trailed 27-14 and the Bears held on to claim their first state title since 2014.

Three things we learned

1. Special teams still special for Grimsley. The Whirlies, who had swung momentum repeatedly in the kicking game during the playoffs, blocked the extra-point attempt after New Bern’s first touchdown. After the Bears went up 13-0, Anderson returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a TD to get Grimsley back in the game.

2. New Bern’s Torrey Nowell can coach. Nowell left Class 1-A finalist Pamlico after the 2018 season to take over at New Bern. It wasn’t pretty at first, with the Bears going 2-9 in his first season, but the trajectory has been upward ever since. “Coach Nowell started with us early,” Sampson said. “He set the standard for us. Coming from a 1-A school, a lot of people doubted him, but we just trusted his process.”

3. The future is bright for the Whirlies. Yes, Grimsley loses Stephens, Georgia-bound DT Jamaal Jarrett and LB Khalil Stimpson among others, but the cupboard will hardly be bare next season. Anderson and Taylor return as receivers, 2,100-yard rusher Mitchell Summers is only a sophomore and Bryce Davis and Andre Hill will be back on the defensive line. Then there’s freshman QB Faizon Brandon, who split reps with Stephens in practice all season and helped the Whirlies beat Reagan.

Stars

Grimsley — QB Ryan Stephens 12 rushes 59 yards, TD, 5-of-16 passing, 102 yards, TD, INT; RB Mitchell Summers 18 carries, 71 yards, TD; WR Terrell Anderson 1 catch, 85 yards, TD, kickoff-return TD; LB Keshaun Jones 8 tackles; DE Bryce Davis 2 TFLs.

New Bern — QB Damaree Tucker 12 rushes, 105 yards, 2 TDs; RB Aronne Herring 16 carries, 161 yards, 2 TDs; RB Chamir Wright 4 carries, 34 yards, 2 TDs; LB No’Tavien Green 8 tackles, sack, INT, forced fumble; DT K.J. Sampson 7½ tackles, 1½ TFLs; DE Will Brimmer sack, fumble recovery.

What they said

“These kids are New Bern kids. They grew up here and played ball together and battled the whole time. I just love these guys and I’m super-thankful for them.” – Torrey Nowell, New Bern coach

“New Bern is an outstanding football team. They’re very physical, extremely talented and athletic and very good at what they do. I tip my hat to them.” – Darryl Brown, Grimsley coach

Records

Grimsley: 15-1.

New Bern: 16-0.

Scoring summary

Grimsley                        7  7  7    7   —   28

New Bern                     13  7  7  13  —   40

NB – Chamir Wright 22 run (kick blocked), 1st, 9:23

NB – Aronne Herring 12 run (Wyatt Jackson kick), 1st, 3:54

Gr – Terrell Anderson 98 kickoff return (Jackson Henry kick), 1st, 3:40

Gr – Ryan Stephens 30 run (Henry kick), 2nd, 11:16

NB – Wright 4 run (Jackson kick), 2nd, 8:07

NB – Herring 66 run (Jackson kick), 3rd, 10:12

Gr – Mitchell Summers 6 run (Henry kick), 3rd, 4:16

NB – Damaree Tucker 23 run (kick failed), 4th, 11:53

Gr – Anderson 85 pass from Stephens (Henry kick), 4th, 2:57

NB – Tucker 36 run (Jackson kick), 4th, :33

Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraSports on Twitter.

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