FARMVILLE — When Rashadeen Byrd scooped up the opening kickoff at the 18-yard line, found a gaping hole in the middle of the field and sprinted until he got to the end zone, Ayden-Grifton served notice that it came ready for its annual clash with rival Farmville Central.
With two of their biggest offensive weapons injured and losing quarterback Jay Leavelle on the fourth offensive snap, the Jaguars simply lacked the firepower to answer.
Rashadeen Byrd, who returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, follows the block of Harrison Paramore.
“Obviously the opening kickoff by a senior definitely set the tone for us,” Ayden-Grifton coach Paul Cornwell said after his team’s 21-7 win Friday night. “But everybody who got out there contributed tonight. … I thought it was a great effort.”
The Chargers (2-2) needed that after being manhandled in two of their first three games, falling 26-0 to Southside and 58-6 to East Duplin. The Jaguars (2-2) were coming off consecutive wins in which they put up 41 points in each game.
But injuries limited head coach Scott Garner’s options. Wide receiver Kameron McNeill, a 6-3, 210-pound senior, sat out the first half then reinjured his left ankle on the fifth play of the second half.
Bryan Reid, a 6-0, 210-pound senior running back,sat out the first half with a strained hamstring and had three carries for minus-2 yards in the second half.
Leavelle, a 6-3, 205-pound junior quarterback, scrambled for 16 yards on the Jaguars’ first play but injured his left wrist three plays later.
“We’re really banged up,” Gardner said. “I just told them we’re just trying to make it to the conference. We’ve got three weeks. I’ve got to get some people healed up so we can make a run.
“I think they competed, and I think they played very hard,” Gardner said. “ I think we lost all our firepower off the bat. … Injuries, they’re injuries. It’s football. You can’t make excuses. Ayden came in and played hard; they won the football game.”
Byrd’s kickoff return served as the springboard.
“We didn’t give effort on the opening kickoff for whatever reason,” gardner said. “They saw the ball bouncing around, and our whole right side just slowed down. I don’t know what they saw, what they were thinking. We talked about squibbing. We knew he was a good kickoff returner. We just kind of let up on the side.”
Michael Webb looks for running room against Farmville Central.
From there, the Chargers relied on a persistent running game that chewed up time and kept them in control of field position. Ayden-Grifton finished with 174 yards rushing on 42 attempts, led by sophomore Michael Webb with 58 yards on just nine carries.
Webb provided a spark on both sides of the ball for Ayden-Grifton. His interception and 32-yard return to the Farmville Central 28 set up the Chargers’ second touchdown, a 1-yard run by Webb on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Webb had four carries for 21 yards on the short scoring drive.
“He’s just a great young man, great young player,” Cornwell said. “We’re excited about him moving forward. He came in, stepped up and made some big plays for us tonight.”
Farmville Central head coach Scott Gardner gathers his team during a timeout.
Two of Webb’s biggest plays came early in the fourth quarter to help Ayden-Grifton preserve its lead.
Third-string quarterback Jaden Johnson provided an immediate spark on his first play, zipping 65 yards to get the Jaguars within 14-7, then had Farmville Central threatening again on its next possession. Johnson appeared to have an open receiver on third and fourth down, but Webb closed quickly both times to swat the ball away.
The Jaguars would not threaten again. Byrd finished what he started, scoring the final touchdown on a 5-yard run with just 1:38 to play, giving the Chargers bragging rights for the next yea.
“Right before we came out I said, ‘Guys, this is a business trip. It’s not about talking,” Cornwell said. “There’s been a lot of talking over the last few days. I said, ‘It’s not about talking, it’s about playing, and it’s all about us. It’s not about anybody else.’ And I think they really responded to that.”
Keziah Everett, a 6-2, 329-pound junior, rumbles for yardage against Ayden-Grifton.