Published: 12:44 AM, Sat Sep 26, 2009
Gray's Creek gets statement win over preseason favorite Byrd
Ignoring the Gray's Creek Bears won't be so easy anymore.
The Bears broke out of the shadows of Cumberland County's larger and more tradition-laden programs Friday by producing a convincing 33-20 triumph against Douglas Byrd in the Cape Fear Valley 3-A Conference opener for both teams.
The Eagles (3-3, 0-1) were heavy favorites to claim the league crown due to the return of several key performers from a 2008 squad that reached the state 4-A championship game.
But led by junior running back Devonte Cooley and sophomore quarterback Caleb McNeil, the Bears (4-2, 1-0) were the ones who looked like contenders Friday on their home field.
Cooley rushed for 186 yards and scored three touchdowns, while McNeil threw for 118 yards and two scores to key the victory.
"We've been sort of hurt. That's no secret,'' Gray's Creek coach David Lovette said. "We feel like we've been ignored. No matter what we do, it's not good enough.
"Maybe tonight is good enough. I don't know.''
Cooley, a 6-foot, 175-pounder, entered the game as the county's 10th-ranked rusher with 502 yards. But he quickly set the tone for the evening on the Bears' second possession, bursting up the middle for a 28-yard touchdown run.
Douglas Byrd answered with a four-play, 63-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Junior Williams. A two-point conversion run failed, leaving Gray's Creek ahead, 7-6.
The Eagles drove their next possession to the Gray's Creek 9, but the Bears held on a fourth-down play there to prompt a major swing in momentum.
Cooley went back to work, ripping off a 59-yard run in the middle of a seven-play drive that ended with McNeil's 4-yard scoring toss to Quintel Burden.
Burden, a 6-2, 196-pound senior, came up with several clutch catches for the Bears. He finished the night with five receptions for 76 yards.
Gray's Creek led 14-6 at halftime, but that advantage looked to be in jeopardy when the Bears were forced to punt after receiving the opening second-half kickoff.
But Douglas Byrd return man Brendell Davis tried to field the driving punt over his head inside the 10-yard line. Davis fumbled and Gray's Creek recovered at the Eagles 4-yard line.
"The dropped punt was really big,'' Douglas Byrd coach Russell Stone said. "That turned the whole game around.''
Three plays later, McNeil found Austin Darby with a 4-yard touchdown pass to put the Bears ahead, 20-6.
Cooley tacked on a 43-yard touchdown run with 4:41 left in the third period to make it 27-6. It was one of four runs of 28 yards or more by Cooley.
"Our team was motivated tonight, especially our offensive line,'' Cooley said. "They (Byrd) have some good defensive linemen. But my blockers kept working as a team and making holes.''
Douglas Byrd pulled within 27-14 with 1:33 to go in the third period on a 9-yard run by Williams.
But another burst by Cooley - this one a 40-yarder with 3:22 remaining - ended any comeback hopes.
"We're always the underdogs,'' Cooley said. "But tonight we showed we deserve some credit, too.''
Douglas Byrd, meanwhile, is searching for answers after losing two of its last three games.
"The guys that aren't making plays are people who were on the field last December in Chapel Hill,'' Byrd's Stone said. "If they can't get it done, we're not a very good team. Right now we're very mediocre, but we'll go back to work and try to get it back.''
Staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3534.