WEDDINGTON – The Weddington offense took a quarter and a half to get going, but Will Shipley and the Warrior attack made sure they had the last laugh in a 33-19 win over Porter Ridge on Aug. 30.
The Pirate defense forced an interception and three punts to open the game, but receiver-turned-quarterback Dusty Mercer hit Colby Barsz with an 80-yard touchdown strike to open the scoring.
But the biggest blow of the game would come moments later, right before the half.
With the Warriors clinging to a tenuous 7-0 advantage and with under a minute to play in the half, Shipley took the handoff and cut back to his left. From there, he was gone with a 26-yard rushing touchdown, which sucked the life out of the Porter Ridge faithful and sent the Warriors into halftime feeling much better about themselves.
Shipley said with Porter Ridge’s scheduled game against Marvin Ridge getting canceled on opening night, the Warriors were at a disadvantage early, especially since the Pirates changed a large group of skill players from last year.
“I think it’s just finding our way,” he said. “Porter Ridge came in with some film on us and we had none on them since their game was canceled. So, I think it was kind of feeling them out. It took us longer than we wanted to to get started, but we got the job done.”
Shipley scored again on a 1-yard run halfway through the third quarter for the 20-0 lead, but the Pirates would come back. Mason Cox first hit Nick Horstkamp on a 22-yard pass and then called his own number with a 9-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 20-13 after a missed extra point.
Mercer later scored to get the Warriors up 27-13, and the Pirates seem to fold from there.
The Pirates had a field goal attempt blocked and Cox threw a pair of interceptions – one each to Malik Mustapha and Bryson Parker – and then Shipley put them away for good.
With under three minutes to play and the Warriors backed up on their own 11, Shipley said he saw a little daylight and took advantage as he jolted 89 yards for the score and game-sealing touchdown.
“I got the outside and I saw a little space between the cornerback and outside backer, so I just turned it on from there,” Shipley said. “Number 4 (Alex Chapman) actually caught up to me last year on one of my long runs. I knew he was behind me, and I had the fortune to see his shadow which I think helped me turn on the burners a little bit. It definitely felt really good to be able to get into the end zone on that one.”
Shipley finished with 17 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns and also caught four balls for 48 yards.
Mercer was spectacular as well. He completed his only pass for 80 yards and a score, ran for a touchdown and caught four passes for 61 yards.
While the Warriors are 2-0 and set to take on winless South Meck this week, they know they can be better.
In both wins so far, the offense has sputtered early in the games before catching fire late, something coach Andy Capone sees, but not something he’s overly concerned with to this point.
“We like where we’re at, but we obviously have a lot of things to fix,” he said. “But like I told these guys from the start, I don’t want us to be playing our best football Week 1 or Week 2. I want to play our best football down the road. As long as our kids are working hard, I think we have a chance to be pretty good as we continue to improve. But there is still plenty of work to be done.”
The Warriors have allowed 33 points on the season so far, but they’d like to get their per-game scoring average down a bit.
Six of 19 points against Porter Ridge came when Horstkamp hauled in his second receiving touchdown of the day – this one at the game’s final buzzer – but there is still some new pieces getting acclimated to their roles.
One such player is Mustapha, a defensive back/wide receiver who transferred in from Ardrey Kell. He is among several newcomers and reserves last season who are playing critical roles on this team.
“We’re going to be a great team once we fix the little things,” Mustapha said. “We’re going to have to clean some stuff up, but I like how we came together at the end and pulled it out. We’re going to be the team to beat once we get it all together. I’m proud of this team and we’re going to get after it the whole year. This defense can be very good because everyone knows their responsibility and everyone goes after the ball.”
Capone and the Warriors have ultimately been pleased with their start and happy to have knocked off Porter Ridge for the fourth consecutive time in the series.
But they know there’s another gear, and they hope to get to it as the season progresses.
“We have so many places to improve ourselves,” Shipley said. “We still got the W, but we have so many areas to get better at and we’re still coming together as a team. At this point, if we can continue to improve like last season and hit our peak in the playoffs, I think this can be another state championship football team.”