Note: "Tonight" in the story refers to Friday.
The McDowell Titans’ return voyage across the Northwestern Conference schedule hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing.
And some of the stormiest seas still lie ahead.
The Titans (0-3 NWC, 1-6 overall), back in the Northwestern fold after an eight-year odyssey in the Mountain Athletic Conference, are coming off a 46-27 home loss to South Caldwell last Friday in a battle between two clubs who came into the game tied for last place.
This week, the split 4A/3A conference’s first-place team awaits.
The undefeated Alexander Central Cougars (3-0, 7-0) host McDowell tonight (7:30) in Taylorsville.
Right now, they’re two teams traveling in different directions.
The Titans have dropped five in a row, including three conference setbacks to Hickory, St. Stephens and South Caldwell. Even after tonight’s game, conference heavyweights Watauga and Freedom loom ahead.
Although McDowell has been on the receiving end of some blowouts, the Titans have been competitive in nearly every game, and often seem just a play or two away from success.
Not surprisingly, that fact has the coaching staff scratching its collective head.
“Practices have been great,” said Titans head coach Andy Morgan. “I’m sure they’re frustrated. When you’re 1-6, it’s normal to be frustrated. We’ve played well at times. We practice so hard. The kids practice hard every single day, and they understand the schemes and they know what we’re trying to do. But when we get in games, we have mental breakdown after mental breakdown.
“I keep telling them something good is going to happen, and the kids are still fighting.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars are coming off an impressive 33-27 win over Freedom (2-1, 5-2) in a battle for the top spot in the standings. Alexander Central, who already owns a 38-33 victory over Watauga (2-1, 6-1), has seemingly emerged unscathed from the most difficult stretch of its season.
The Cougars, under second-year head coach Butch Carter, have done it with a precision offense and hard-hitting defense.
“Alexander Central is one of the most disciplined teams I’ve seen on film in a number of years,” said Morgan. “They’re big up front, they’re physical, and they understand what they’re trying to do. In the games I’ve seen them on film, I don’t think they were offside one time.
“They have a great coaching staff and they’re senior-laden. They are extremely physical on defense.”
Among the seniors is quarterback Gunnar Anderson (6-2, 185), who is a dual threat. Anderson is 48-of-72 passing for 772 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. He has also rushed for 513 yards and 10 TDs on 72 carries.
Senior running back Devon Weiss (5-9, 195) leads the Cougars’ ground game with 708 yards and eight scores on 88 attempts. Senior running back Bryson Godfrey (6-0, 180) has rushed for 470 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries.
Defensively, junior defensive back Jordan Brown (5-7, 145) leads the team with 58 tackles, including 7.5 for losses and 3.5 quarterback sacks. Junior linebacker Tevin Clark (5-9, 210) had made 43 stops, and junior defensive tackle Isaac Chapman (6-2, 278) has accumulated 35 tackles, 11.5 for losses and a team-high four sacks.
On paper, the logistics couldn’t look much worse for the Titans.
McDowell has struggled against the run, allowing an average of 288 yards on the ground per contest. The Cougars are averaging 345 yards per game on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Titans aren’t running the ball effectively, averaging just 116 yards per game. McDowell ran for a season-low 57 yards in the loss to South Caldwell last week, and has failed to hit triple digits in rushing yards in four of its seven games. Central held an outstanding Freedom team to just 82 rushing yards last Friday. The Cougars are allowing only 152 per game in conference play.
The Titans are also going into the game as shorthanded as they’ve been at any point in recent years. Starters Coby Conley (OL/DL), Nick Ivy (OL/DL), Cedric Biddle (OLB) and Dre Collins (OLB) as well as valuable reserve Qualique Garner (OLB) are all expected to miss tonight’s game with injuries.
McDowell will look to run the football with junior tailback J.C. Olivo (103-500-3TDs). Meanwhile, senior quarterback Ben Ballew has been effective at times through the air, throwing for 218 yards last week. On the season, Ballew is 63-of-111 for 707 yards and seven scores with six picks. Andruw Randolph has caught 22 passes for 264 yards and four TDs.
Defensively, junior linebacker Andrew Davis has been sensational all season. He leads the team with 73 tackles, one for loss. He also has one sack, a blocked punt, three caused fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
McDowell leads the all-time series with Alexander 17-13, but has dropped five in a row. The last meeting was a 35-25 Cougars win in the regular-season finale back in 2008.
Northwestern 4A/3A Conference football 2017
Alexander Central 3-0 7-0
Watauga 2-1 6-1
Freedom 2-1 5-2
West Caldwell 2-1 5-2
Hickory 1-2 3-4
St. Stephens 1-2 2-5
South Caldwell (4A) 1-2 1-6
McDowell (4A) 0-3 1-6
Friday, Oct. 6
South Caldwell 46, McDowell 27
Alexander Central 33, Freedom 27
Watauga 49, Hickory 42
West Caldwell 33, St. Stephens 21
Friday, Oct. 13
McDowell at Alexander Central
Freedom at South Caldwell
Watauga at St. Stephens
West Caldwell at Hickory
Friday, Oct. 20
McDowell at Watauga
St. Stephens at Alexander Central
Hickory at South Caldwell
Freedom at West Caldwell
Friday, Oct. 27
West Caldwell at McDowell
Alexander Central at Hickory
South Caldwell at St. Stephens
Watauga at Freedom
Friday, Nov. 3
Freedom at McDowell
Alexander Central at South Caldwell
West Caldwell at Watauga
Hickory at St. Stephens