MORGANTON – Once upon a time, the McDowell Titans and Freedom Patriots could be counted on to engage in one of the Northwestern Conference’s better contests of the season.
Now, it seems, they can only produce the ugliest.
The Patriots scored three times in a span of 3:33 of the third quarter to break open a tight game and cruise to a 40-13 win over the Titans in the regular-season finale Monday.
In between, there were nearly a dozen unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul penalties, plenty of woofing from both sides and two disqualified players, both of them Titans. In those respects, the game, postponed last Friday, ostensibly for weather-related concerns, resembled the debacle at the end of last season.
McDowell (2-5 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference, 4-7 overall) held a 13-12 lead until the middle of the second quarter and only trailed 20-13 at the half. But the Patriots (6-1, 9-2) put 20 points on the board during a lightning-fast flurry near the end of the third quarter, and – just like that – it was all but over.
It didn’t help that the Titans lost leading receiver Andruw Randolph early in the second quarter after he incurred his second 15-yard penalty. Defensive tackle Nick Ivy, who was having a solid game, was removed from the contest midway through the third quarter. Both players were disqualified rather than ejected, according to the MHS coaching staff, and will be eligible to play in McDowell’s upcoming State 4A Playoff game. The Titans finished tied with South Caldwell for the only playoff spot available to the league’s 4A teams, but earned the berth by beating South head-to-head earlier in the season.
“They fought hard,” said Titans head coach Andy Morgan of the Titans. “But we’ve told them and told them and told them, you can’t lose your composure. That starts with me. It’s my responsibility to make sure they stay composed, and I’ve done a poor job I guess. That’s the third time this year, at an important spot, when we’ve lost someone during the game that was a key person, or multiple people. If you can’t control your emotions, you can’t play football.”
For a while, at least, it was an entertaining game.
The Titans took the opening kickoff and marched 55 yards in seven plays to take an early lead. Quarterback Adam Randolph hit running back Dequan Boyce for a 20-yard gain to the Freedom 14, and Randolph eventually scooted in from 11 yards out for a 6-0 lead with 8:53 to go in the quarter. The extra point was blocked.
Freedom answered quickly, driving 59 yards in six plays to even the score. Quarterback Jayden Birchfield scored from the 1 to tie the game. Freedom, whose kicker is injured, went for two but failed.
The Patriots then held the Titans to a three-and-out and took the lead with a 3-yard run by Birchfield that made it 12-6 with 4:35 to go in the period.
But the Titans answered, going 66 yards in five plays. The key to the drive was a spectacular one-handed catch by tight end Richard Handy for a 44-yard gain to the Freedom 18. Two plays later, Randolph found Handy in the end zone for an 18-yard scoring play. Seth Baird’s point-after made it 13-12 at the 2:05 mark.
The score stayed that way until Freedom running back Larry Luke broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run that put the Pats ahead to stay at 20-13 with 5:38 to go before halftime.
Freedom’s defense took over in the second half, limiting the Titans to 60 total yards and four first downs after the break.
With McDowell sputtering offensively, it was a matter of time until the big-play oriented Patriots lit up the scoreboard. Luke’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:10 left in the third made it 26-13.
On the ensuing possession, Freedom’s Jee Hardy scooped up a dropped lateral and raced 40 yards to the end zone. Moments later, Birchfield found Christian Fox behind the Titans’ secondary for a 33-yard strike and a 40-13 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the third.
By coaches’ agreement, the clock ran throughout the fourth quarter.
Adam Randolph went 9-of-19 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, one of them coming on a desperation heave on the game’s final play. Randolph is now 133-for-200 for 1,953 yards, and needs just 47 more to become the first 2,000-yard passer in school history. The touchdown pass was his 18th of the season, tying the school mark set by Kevin Bailey in 1990.
Handy caught three passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. J.C. Olivo led the Titans’ running game with 41 yards on 12 carries. Randolph rushed for 28 yards and a score on nine attempts. Boyce had five carries for 28 yards and caught a pass for 20 yards.
Freedom outgained McDowell 370-219. Luke rolled up 85 yards on 10 carries, scoring twice. Birchfield also ran for two scores. Fox caught six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
The Titans were flagged 12 times for 81 yards in penalties, while Freedom had 10 for 95 yards. There were also a number of offsetting penalties.
The playoffs are set to begin Nov. 16. The latest projections have the Titans as a No. 12 seed playing on the road at No. 5 Mooresville.
First downs 11 20
Rushes-yds. 27-98 37-210
Passing 9-19-2-1 13-25-0-1
Passing yds. 121 160
Total yds. 219 370
Return yds. 46 175
Fumbles/lost 1/1 2/0
Penalties-yds. 12-81 10-95
Punts-avg. 5-31.4 2-43
McDowell 13 00 00 00 – 13
Freedom 12 08 20 00 – 40
Individual stats: Rushing: McDowell (J.C. Olivo 12-41, Adam Randolph 9-28-TD, Dequan Boyce 5-28, Cedric Biddle 1-1) Freedom (Traevon Lytle 8-54, Larry Luke 10-85, Jayden Birchfield 8-31-2TDs, Kris Dula 6-12, C.J. Hayden 1-6, Dezmond Caldwell 1-15, Desmond Hendrick 1-m1, Mekhi Spates 2-8) Passing: McDowell (Randolph 9-19-2-1-121 yds.) Freedom (Birchfield 13-25-0-1-160 yds.) Receiving: McDowell (Boyce 1-20, Richard Handy 3-72-TD, Steven Webb 2-18, Brycen Seymore 2-7, Dakota Effler 1-4) Freedom (Caldwell 3-54, Hayden 3-9, Christian Fox 6-95-TD, Traevon Lytle 1-2)
M – Randolph 11 run, kick blocked (8:53)
F – Birchfield 1 run, conversion failed (6:48)
F – Birchfield 3 run, conversion failed (4:35)
M – Handy 18 pass from Randolph, Seth Baird kick (2:05)
F – Luke 32 run, Luke 3 conv. run (5:38)
F – Luke 4 run, conversion failed (4:10)
F – Hardy 40 fumble return, Lytle 3 conv. run (3:22)
F – Fox 33 pass from Birchfield, conversion failed (:37)
Northwestern 3A/4A Conference football 2018
Watauga (3A) 7-0 11-0
Freedom (3A) 6-1 9-2
Alexander Central (3A) 4-2 8-2
Hickory (3A) 3-3 5-5
Saint Stephens (3A) 3-4 4-7
McDowell (4A) 2-5 4-7
South Caldwell (4A) 2-5 3-8
West Caldwell (3A) 0-7 0-11
Friday, Nov. 2
McDowell at Freedom (ppd.)
Alexander Central 56, South Caldwell 22
St. Stephens 28, Hickory 21
Watauga 62, West Caldwell 0
Monday, Nov. 5
Freedom 40, McDowell 13
Friday, Nov. 9
Hickory at Alexander Central
End regular season
Wednesday, Aug. 15
Shelby 31, Freedom 21
Friday, Aug. 17
McDowell 22, R-S Central 7
Alexander Central 40, Burns 7
Statesville 30, Hickory 15
Bandys 42, St. Stephens 28
Watauga 36, T.C. Roberson 12
East Burke 42, West Caldwell 0
Friday, Aug. 24
McDowell 52, Avery 27
Alexander Central 50, Wilkes Central 7
Freedom 57, Draughn 0
St. Stephens 44, Bunker Hill 6
Kings Mtn. 42, South Caldwell 6
Watauga 43, Ashe 7
Hibriten 58, West Caldwell 0
Friday, Aug. 31
Patton 35, McDowell 13
Alexander Central 54, North Iredell 3
Freedom at East Burke (ppd.)
Hickory 35, Newton-Conover 6
East Rutherford 70, South Caldwell 44
Watauga 58, Avery 7
West Iredell 48, West Caldwell 6
Monday, Sept. 3
Freedom 55, East Burke 13
Friday, Sept. 7
Mitchell 42, McDowell 14
Alexander Central 56, North Lincoln 24
Freedom 49, Patton 6
Huss 35, Hickory 7
Maiden 21, St. Stephens 13
Hibriten 56, South Caldwell 12
Watauga 43, Wilkes Central 14
Ashe 47, West Caldwell 0
Wednesday, Sept. 12
Hickory 28, Bandys 27
Foard 38, St. Stephens 22
Thursday, Sept. 13
South Caldwell 50, R-S Central 32
Friday Sept. 21
Hickory 31, McDowell 0
Alexander Central 69, West Caldwell 0
Freedom 49, St. Stephens 0
Watauga 46, South Caldwell 12
Friday, Sept. 28
St. Stephens 40, McDowell 36
Watauga 35, Alexander Central 0
Freedom 43, Hickory 22
South Caldwell 62, West Caldwell 13
Friday, Oct. 5
McDowell 48, South Caldwell 28
Freedom 38, Alexander Central 6
Watauga 43, Hickory 23
St. Stephens 55, West Caldwell 7
Friday, Oct. 12
Alexander Central 49, McDowell 0
Freedom 58, South Caldwell 12
Hickory 68, West Caldwell 21
Watauga 49, St. Stephens 7
Friday, Oct. 19
Watauga 50, McDowell 13
Alexander Central 28, St. Stephens 13
Freedom 54, West Caldwell 0
Hickory 55, South Caldwell 54
Thursday, Oct. 25
McDowell 56, West Caldwell 6
South Caldwell 44, St. Stephens 28
Friday, Oct. 26
Hickory at Alexander Central (ppd.)
Watauga 35, Freedom 16