Cavs start Simon era with 23-6 win
Southern Lee opened its new era under head coach Don Simon with a 23-6 victory at Western Harnett Friday night.
The hurry-up, spread offense was as advertised by the Cavaliers. Junior quarterback Emond Caldwell passed for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Southern Lee’s defense, though, was the dominant unit of the night. The Cavaliers forced six Eagle turnovers and held Western Harnett to five first downs. The only Eagle score was Austin Wright’s 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the opening quarter.
Southern Lee turned big plays into 10 quick points, adding a bunch of confidence to the opening-night effort.
Cullen Boyette, from an upback position on the Cavalier kick return, took the opening kick into Eagle territory. A flag set the Cavs on the Eagle 36 and after a couple of first downs, the Cavs got on the board with Ethan Helsman kicking a 29-yard field goal.
The first Western Harnett possession ended with Dylan Brown putting a big hit and a fumble on an end around by Brandon Tymes. Lineman Justin McKinnon fell on the ball for the Cavs.
The next snap was another big play. Caldwell bought time in the backfield before lobbing a pass to Damien Brown open over the middle. Brown took it the rest of the way for a 30-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Cavalier lead with 6:28 left in the quarter.
Two stops in the Eagle backfield made for a quick stop and the Cavs moved to the Eagle 6 on their next drive. On a first-and-goal play, the Cavs fumbled a handoff and Wright scooped the ball up on the move and dashed practically the length of the field.
The Cavalier defense held the Eagles to two first downs and 32 yards in the opening half. Another turnover set up the Cavalier offense in position to strike late in the half.
Brown intercepted a deflected pass, giving the Cavs the ball on the Eagle 32. A Caldwell to Aaron Blockman pass and run gained 14 yards, then on third-and-10, the Cavs called a screen pass at the right time. Caldwell tossed to Monte McLean for an 18-yard touchdown with 1:18 left in the half. The Cavs led 16-6 at halftime.
The Eagles had their chances to get back within a possession. The second Eagle drive of the half ended on a fourth down play at the Cavalier 30, with Cavalier lineman Ben Long recovering a fumble after Eagle quarterback Austin Speck was striped as he tried throwing on the run.
Southern Lee drove to the Eagle 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Caldwell, and all the Cavaliers, thought he scored on a run up the middle. He had the ball taken away, the Cavs argued after he broke the goal line, but Eagle tackle Nik Dunlap rumbled 80 yards to the Cavalier 19.
The Eagles couldn’t capitalize from there. On 3rd-and-8, the Cavs forced and recovered their fourth fumble of the game.
The Cavs tacked on a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. McLean carried in from a yard out. Patrick Bunnell’s 23-yard rush on a 4th-and-2 play at the Eagle 31 was the key for the last Cavalier score.
Caldwell was 15-for-34 passing for 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Bunnell carried 12 times for 95 yards. Blockman was Caldwell’s favorite target, getting eight receptions for 77 yards. Brown had three catches for 37 yards.
On the defensive side, Dalton Parker had two sacks and two tackles for loss. Jeremiah Jones had two tackles for loss plus an interception, picking off Speck with 1:30 left in the game.
The Cavs held Speck to 7-for-18 passing for 13 yards and two interceptions. Jae’pell Ortiz led the Eagles with 10 carries for 55 yards.
Southern Lee (1-0) hits the road again this coming Friday, going to Northwood. Western Harnett (0-1) will visit county rival Harnett Central Friday night.