CONCORD — When Joe Nixon was first told the stat lines that his running backs put up on Friday night, he called them over to show them. Jawarn Howell initially looked surprised to hear just how gaudy his totals were, but that quickly turned into a modest, yet confident smile. His backfield running mate Kyjuan Westmoreland was even more modest, just barely cracking a smile before his coach reminded him that it was allowed before sending both of them off to thank their offensive line.
Those gaudy numbers? Howell finished with 285 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries while Westmoreland added 102 yards and a score on his 19 carries.
“Those are just crazy numbers,” Nixon said. “I’m just super proud of them and super proud of our offensive line.”
Howell and Westmoreland totaled a combined 387 of the Blue Devils’ 400 rushing yards on the night as Mooresville (3-1, 1-0 Greater Metro Conference) used its stellar rushing attack to control the clock and defeat Cox Mill (3-2, 0-1) 44-30.
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“Our game plan was to keep (Cox Mill) off the field—they have a really high-powered offense—a I thought we did a really good job of that,” Nixon said. “Any time you can run the football effectively like that, it makes it tough on the other team.”
In total, the Blue Devils ran 66 offensive plays against the Chargers, holding on to the ball for a whopping 33:36 of the 48 minutes. Of those 66 plays, Mooresville ran the ball 55 times and still managed to average over seven yards per rush.
That rushing attack allowed the Blue Devils to both start and end the game on a strong note. Their first possession of the game, trailing 3-0, spanned 79 yards on 17 plays and ate up 8:45 of the first-quarter clock, capped off by Westmoreland’s touchdown run.
They pulled off another soul-crushing drive on their final possession of the game. After Cox Mill tied the game at 30 with 8:39 to play, the Blue Devils ate up 7:05, taking 11 plays to go 79 yards as Howell scored his fourth and final touchdown of the night to put Mooresville up for good with 1:34 to play.
“That they were able to go down and score like that speaks to our senior leadership,” Nixon said. “When they tied the game, we didn’t panic. The kids stayed together and they went down and scored.
“I’m proud of the character we showed tonight.”
It didn’t always look as if the Blue Devils would need a game-winning drive. Twice in the second half, Mooresville took a two-touchdown lead, but the Chargers were able to claw back to tie the game at 30.
“No one pointed any fingers (when they tied the game),” Nixon said. “They just kept playing.”
Both teams had to battle an uncharacteristically high penalty count on Friday night. Mooresville finished with 14 accepted penalties, totaling 114 yards and Cox Mill was flagged eight times for 90 yards.
“I told the guys all week long that we have to be more disciplined,” Nixon said. “We lost our composure a little bit in the first half. We just have to be better and not hurt ourselves like that with penalties.”
However, despite the stellar night for the offense, it was the defense that got to seal the game. With under 40 seconds to play, Aaron Graham picked off a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown, weaving his way through the desperate Cox Mill offense.
“At first, I was yelling at him to get down,” Nixon said. “But that changed to ‘score, score’ real quick. Just an awesome play by him.”
The Blue Devils’ road through the Greater Metro Conference doesn’t ease up next week as the preseason favorite Bulls of Hickory Ridge (3-2, 1-0) travel to Joe Popp Stadium.
“That’s why we play in this conference,” Nixon said. “To play in these big games against these great teams.”
Kickoff between the Ragin’ Bulls and Blue Devils is set for 7:30 p.m. on September 26.