In a battle of unbeaten teams in the USA South, it was easy to see why both Averett and North Carolina Wesleyan had achieved that status.
Both teams entered Saturday’s meeting at Campbell Stadium with offenses averaging more than 390 yards per game, and they each finally found an opposing offensive unit that could match their own.
Ultimately, three touchdown catches from sophomore Chase Nixon, including two in the second half, helped the Cougars emerge with a 41-24 victory and improve to 3-0 in the league.
“This is most definitely a good win for our school,” Nixon said. “This is just setting the tone for the rest of the conference. We’re taking it one step at a time, one game at a time and just continuing to fight.”
Nixon finished his day with six catches for 167 yards, the third-most receiving yards in a game in Averett’s history. Nixon also became just the fourth Cougar to catch three touchdowns in a game—joining Jeff Hughley (twice), Terrance Owens II and Eric Sicre.
“Man, this offense, I love it,” Nixon said. “This offense is opportunistic. You never know who’s up next.”
Averett (5-1) plays at Huntingdon College next week in Montgomery, Ala. Huntindgon defeated Brevard College 21-10 on Saturday to also move to 3-0 in the USA South, giving the Cougars a second opportunity in as many weeks to take out an undefeated conference team and give them some breathing room at the top.
As efficient as the Battling Bishops’ offense had been, quarterback Donielle Totten has struggled with interceptions this year. He had thrown 10 in five games entering Saturday, and he threw two more against Averett—the most costly being at the start of the second half and trailing 20-17.
Cougars junior safety Diaunte Neufville intercepted Totten’s pass at Averett’s 13-yard line to halt a scoring drive.
“We felt as a defensive back group that it was going to be a big part of the game for us to have a pretty decent game all around,” Neufville said. “Coach preaches to us all the time about momentum, and a turnover like that, putting the offense close enough to get in the end zone, I think we did a pretty good job.”
Averett responded nine plays later when quarterback Jacob Wright found Nixon for a 12-yard score.
“That’s part of our goal chart: (either) score on the first drive of the second half or get off the field and prevent a score,” head coach Cleive Adams said. “That turnover was huge and gave us the opportunity to steal a possession. At that point, we were in control, but it was still a football game.”
North Carolina Wesleyan (3-3) went three-and-out on its next drive, however. Averett then went 52 yards over the next seven plays, capping its possession with Wright’s 34-yard pass to Nixon for a 34-17 edge with 1:17 to play in the third, giving the Cougars the cushion they needed to essentially seal the win.
“(The receiving group) just has unbelievable chemistry with our quarterback,” Adams said. “We knew we could take some shots on their defense, and we missed probably three in the first half. But we knew if we just continued, we’d get our share and it worked out for us.”
N.C. Wesleyan linebacker Antonio Johnson forced Averett running back Joshua Tapscott to fumble in the fourth quarter, and Johnson returned it 82 yards for a touchdown, but that was the end of the comeback attempt.
The Cougars scored on their next drive with Wright’s 1-yard touchdown run—a series extended, in part, thanks to a risky yet successful Wright scramble and dive in between two defenders on third down to reach the sticks.
Both teams started quickly in the first quarter, with Averett tallying a 16-yard rushing touchdown from Tapscott and a 66-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Nixon. Nixon also had a 48-yard catch in the opening quarter, setting up Tapscott’s score.
“Watching film, we found some holes in the defense and some shots we wanted to take,” Nixon said. “We were just picking that apart and wanted to take shots.”
The Battling Bishops got on the board in the first quarter with Totten’s 6-yard pass to Tyler Roberts and a 29-yard field goal.
North Carolina Wesleyan’s Marcus Leggett intercepted Wright at the end of the first quarter, but Averett linebacker Conner Showalter took it back from Totten a short time later to give the Cougars the ball at the start of the second.
The only scoring in the second quarter came on back-to-back plays. After Averett’s Chris Francis carried 7 yards for the score to make it 20-10 with 4:59 left in the half, N.C. Wesleyan’s Jeff Black rushed 75 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive to narrow the edge to 20-17 with 4:48 to play before the break.
“We were exploited a few times in the first half, and that was a little bit disappointing, but that’s what they do for a living,” Adams said. “They run power and they force you to understand their formations and get your right people in the right places. Once we zeroed in, it was still kind of sitting on the edge of your seat every time they ran the ball because their backs are pretty doggone good. That shifty one (Black), if he got grass, he was hard to deal with.”
Black carried 10 times for 134 yards for the Battling Bishops, and Totten went 12-of-25 through the air for 137 yards.
Tapscott, despite the fumble, still finished as Averett’s first 100-yard rusher of the season, collecting 147 on 20 carries. Wright, in addition to his 26 rushing yards and one rushing score, was 13-of-23 passing for 262 yards.
All told, the Cougars finished with 502 yards yards of total offense, marking the third consecutive game with more than 500. By comparison, N.C. Wesleyan amassed 349 yards, but it was not enough to maintain control of the USA South.
Averett—Tapscott 16 rush (conversion fails), 6-0, 8:41
NCW—Roberts 6 pass from Totten (Graham kick), 7-6, 7:23
Averett—Nixon 66 pass from Wright (Westberry kick), 13-7, 6:18
NCW—Graham 29 field goal, 13-10, 1:37
Averett—Francis 7 rush (Westberry kick), 20-10, 4:59
NCW—Black 75 rush (Graham kick), 20-17, 4:48
Averett—Nixon 12 pass from Wright (Westberry kick), 27-17, 8:35
Averett—Nixon 34 pass from Wright (Westberry kick), 34-17, 1:16
NCW—Johnson 82 fumble return (Graham kick), 34-24, 9:37
Averett—Wright 1 rush (Westberry kick), 41-24, 3:01