Northwood prevails against Orange in defensive standoff

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/28/21

PITTSBORO — The Chargers aren’t pretty.

They aren’t shooting for style points when they lace up their cleats and take the field.

They aren’t throwing 25-30 passes in a …

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Northwood prevails against Orange in defensive standoff

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The Chargers aren’t pretty.

They aren’t shooting for style points when they lace up their cleats and take the field.

They aren’t throwing 25 or 30 passes in a typical game.

They don’t have a quarterback firing SportsCenter Top 10-type dimes to speedy receivers downfield.

They don’t have pass-catchers regularly making physical, Randy Moss-esque catches over defensive backs.

They aren’t getting in offensive shootouts every week.

What they do have is a hard-nosed, tough style of football, one that’ll carry over no matter the opponent. And that’s just the way they like it.

That style shone in Northwood’s 10-7 home win over the Orange Panthers on Friday, a defensive dogfight where the Chargers prevailed to earn their first victory against Orange in Pittsboro in eight years.

“It just took our kids to start realizing they can play with anybody they want to,” said Northwood’s second-year head coach Cullen Homolka. “They’re 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds just like (Orange is). When they can start figuring that out, they’re just as tough as those kids and we can beat anybody we play. It’s fun.”

This was a game carried by the defensive and special teams units.

No stat or highlight proves that better than the fact the Panthers didn’t score a single offensive touchdown — or point — all night.

In the third quarter, with the Chargers trailing 7-3 after a made field goal from Northwood senior Aidan Laros, the Panthers were forced to take the ball at their own 6-yard-line after Laros kicked the ball to the sideline on the ensuing kickoff, which touched an Orange player before landing out of bounds.

What followed was a phenomenal defensive stand that saw Northwood push back three straight Orange rushing plays, including two for losses. By the end of the short-lived Panthers’ possession, they were punting from their own 1-yard-line.

As Orange junior kicker/punter Darrius Satterfield came onto the field, it was hard to forget the rough night he’d already had.

In the first half, Satterfield had two of his field goals blocked by the Chargers’ special teams brigade, who swarmed the ball in no time on both plays and didn’t even give him a chance to take a shot at the uprights.

And in that moment, punting from his own 1-yard-line, Satterfield kicked the ball high up in the air as gravity quickly pulled it back down, it took a Northwood bounce and rolled out of bounds at Orange’s 17-yard-line.

The Chargers’ offense, which struggled to move the ball on Friday, finally had excellent starting field position.

Four plays later — after an angry 11-yard run by junior running back Jalen Paige where he broke a few tackles before being pulled down inside the 5-yard-line — Laros ran it in for a one-yard score, then hit the extra point to give Northwood the 10-7 lead it’d keep for the remainder of the contest.

“If you go watch every one of our games, (defense and special teams) is what keeps us in them,” said Homolka. “From the beginning of this entire thing, that was the thing I said, ‘I want you guys to take whatever you need for those two units and make them the best units you can.’”

Orange had two drives that followed Northwood’s first touchdown, but in both cases, the Chargers’ defense held steady, forcing a missed 31-yard field goal on the first and a turnover on downs at the Northwood 49-yard-line on the second.

After Orange’s senior quarterback Jayce Hodges was shoved out of bounds short of the marker on fourth down, it was all but over.

It may not have been pretty, but it was Northwood football.

The Chargers’ offense left a lot to be desired on Friday, finishing with just 127 total yards, the bulk of which came from Paige, who racked up 70 yards on 14 carries.

Northwood passed the ball just twice — both resulting in interceptions for senior Kirk Haddix, including a 25-yard pick-six by Orange senior linebacker Elliott Woods just before halftime that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. Haddix was then benched for senior quarterback Cam Entrekin, who managed the game well despite not throwing a pass.

Even with the pick-six and the lack of offensive production, the Chargers never gave up on themselves and continued to believe in their two strongest units.

“I’ll be honest, I went in at halftime and I raised hell with them,” Homolka said. “(I was most impressed with) how they came out in the second half and still wanted to win. There’s some Northwood teams I’ve been a part of here that sometimes I wasn’t sure, but this year, they’ve wanted to win.”

Shining for the Chargers was Laros, a 2021 commit to Florida International University as a kicker/punter. Playing all three phases, he had eight carries for 30 yards on the ground — including the game-deciding touchdown in the third quarter — along with a 29-yard field goal (1-for-1), a couple of impressive punts and a bone-crushing hit on Orange’s final play as time expired.

“Aidan Laros is a beast,” Homolka said. “I’m sad he’s a senior. … If he’s not the best player in this conference right now, then I think people are overlooking him because he does everything for us on this team and he’s an incredible player.”

Vance County canceled its game against the Chargers, originally scheduled for Thursday, due to a lack of players needed to field a team (not COVID-19 related).

Northwood (3-1), finding a replacement, will now host the undefeated Panther Creek Catamounts (5-0) on Thursday.

With the way Panther Creek has been blowing teams out as of late, it won’t be an easy win.

“They probably throw it 30-plus times a game and they’ve got some athletes that can go get it,” Homolka said of Panther Creek. “So it’ll be interesting how we match up. … We’ve got a challenge on our hands. We’re always ready.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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