DURHAM— The Northern Durham Knights completed four passes. That sounds like the final stat line of a team that was blown out, struggling mightily at throwing the ball. But really, it was that …
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DURHAM— The Northern Durham Knights completed four passes. That sounds like the final stat line of a team that was blown out, struggling mightily at throwing the ball. But really, it was that they didn’t need to throw it, running wild for 228 yards on 42 carries, spread among eight different rushers.
This isn’t anything new, either. All of these numbers are very close to the season averages for the Knights, who entered the game with less passing yards than rushing attempts.
Led by Anthony Freeman, who carried the ball nine times for 72 yards as he scored his 17th, 18th, and 19th touchdowns of the season, the Knights routed Northwood, 56-14, at Durham County Stadium on Friday night.
Northern Durham improved to 9-2 while the Chargers dropped to 4-7.
“I like the way we played,” Freeman said. “We came out, got hype, and scored early.”
The junior running back is the son of Anthony Freeman II, who played cornerback at East Carolina under a coaching staff that included current Knights head coach John Hammett, who was then a graduate assistant.
The Freemans moved to Durham by chance because of a job transfer for his father just before Anthony’s freshman season, which was also Hammett’s first at the helm of the program.
“I knew he was going to be a good player the first week he got there in his freshman year to summer workouts,” Hammett said.
Since then, Freeman has run for over 1,500 yards, including 1,222 this season in the first year under Northern Durham’s new Wing-T offense. And on Friday night, he helped the Knights get out to an extremely fast start.
Northwood fumbled on the opening kickoff return, setting up Davis Brock for a 26-yard field goal. The Knights defense then added a safety before a 7-yard rushing touchdown for Bryant Jones made the score 12-0 less than five minutes into the game. Another fumble from Northwood on the first play of the ensuing series gave the ball back to Northern Durham, and Freeman bowled his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
“I knew I was going to get in,” Freeman said. “I powered it in there. I don’t get to go do that a lot, so I like that.”
Just over four minutes later, Freeman scored untouched from four yards out for another touchdown. Quarterback Caleb Steele then ran for a 20-yard score, stretching the lead to 33-0 at the end of the first quarter.
In that quarter, the Knights’ offense was humming, as they rushed twelve times for 90 yards and four touchdowns, while attempting just two passes, both of which fell incomplete.
“The Wing-T gives you a lot of misdirection and we get some unique formations that put stress on the defense,” Hammett said. “It’s a hard offense to defend. It’s been around for 150 years and there’s a reason.
The first pass completion of the game for either team came in the middle of the second quarter, when Northwood punter Aidan Laros pulled a fake and found Jack Vail for a 32-yard gain. Later in the drive, Jack Thompson fired a high-arcing throw down the left sideline to Chris Lawson for a touchdown.
After more than 22 minutes of game time, new Northern Durham quarterback Kyle Barnhill hit Javion Hart for the Knights’ first completion. On the next play, Freeman cut to the right for a 12-yard touchdown.
“[The running backs] did really good; they made all the right reads,” right guard Camron Flowers said. “It’s just really easy. We don’t really have to throw much.”
The touchdown was Freeman’s third of the game and brought the score to 40-7 at halftime.
“When you come out early and you punch it in and they can’t stop you but they know it’s still coming, it gets harder and harder to stop,” Freeman said.
The Chargers pulled out several trick plays in the half, running an onside kick, two kickoff reverse plays, and two successful fake punts. Aware of the rushing onslaught that would come, Chargers coach Cullen Homolka, a former collegiate fullback, had devised an unorthodox preparation tactic in practice leading up to the game.
“I put the pads on and tried to simulate coming downhill at them, just because they needed it,” Homolka said. “Our kids, they need to understand that they can play with teams and right now I don’t know if they do.”
Northwood tried another onside kick on the opening kickoff of the second half. The Knights, though, recovered the kick, and, although Freeman sat out the final two quarters, the offensive strategy changed little. Northern Durham launched into a methodical, nearly eight-minute drive of 12 consecutive run plays, followed by a 21-yard field goal from Brock.
Early in the fourth quarter, Northwood’s Deuce Powell got to the edge, sprinted down the left sideline and dove to the pylon for a 27-yard rushing touchdown. The score marked the final touchdown of the season for the Chargers and the final touchdown of the senior’s career.
The Knights would add two more touchdowns, with the first coming on a 45-yard pass from Barnhill to Hart over the surprised Chargers defense. Jones then tacked on a 20-yard rushing score for the game’s final points.
“We’re a power running team,” Jones said. “We’ve got some great runners, and we’ve got a great O-line.”
With the win, Northern Durham now looks toward the state playoffs, where the Knights are an eight seed in the 3AA bracket and will face Southern Alamance in the first round.
Meanwhile, Northwood won’t be going to the playoffs, and Friday’s game was the last for the Chargers’ seniors.
Two of them, Powell and Thompson, each approached Homolka after the game with tears in their eyes and hugged him before walking off to the locker room.
“I just hate that it’s over,” said Homolka, composing himself, and then looking to the future. “We’ve got a lot of hungry kids. We’ll get there.”