By Tom Ham
WILSON — Beddingfield desperately needed a drastic shift in momentum in its 2-A Eastern Plains Conference varsity football opener Friday night.
North Johnston, also kicking off conference play, obliged.
The Panthers, who had stunned Beddingfield by bolting to a 13-0 lead, decided to attempt a short kickoff after their second TD late in the first quarter.
Beddingfield senior Zion Hinnant fielded the kick near the left sideline and zipped 42 yards to North Johnston’s 20-yard line.
At that point, the Bruins discovered they could turn their offensive attention to bruising 5-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore fullback Raekwon Batts and proceeded to blast their way to a 35-20 triumph.
The Panthers were without a threat the rest of the way until benefiting from one of 12 Beddingfield penalties to put together their final TD march in the closing seconds.
Beddingfield, the preseason favorite in a poll of the head coaches, vaulted to 5-1 overall, while North Johnston slipped to 2-4.
The Bruins bounced back from near self-destruction at the outset. Their offense was moving in the wrong direction; the tackling was pathetic; two potential TD passes were dropped in the end zone and a field-goal try of 35 yards missed.
Before the final whistle, Beddingfield was assessed 12 penalties for 130 yards and a pair of TDs were nullified. Second-half play became chippy with late hits, cheap shots and unsportsmanlike infractions. North Johnston’s eight penalties totaled 67 yards.
The Beddingfield threat at North Johnston’s 20-yard line ended with the Panthers’ Brandon Peeden recovering a fumble.
But the Bruins had shaken their sleepwalking episode and took command with 35 unanswered points. In the meantime, Beddingfield defenders Willie Bridgers, Lamorris Speight, Darryl Malachi and Devin Woodard made life miserable for Panthers quarterback Camden Aycock.
Batts pounded 35 and 7 yards for the first two Bruins’ TDs and junior Bryan Rico kicked five successive extra points. For the night, Batts thundered 161 yards and three TDs on 17 rushes.
Clinging to a 14-13 halftime lead on drives of 43 and 42 yards, Beddingfield got second-half TDs from Batts on a 7-yard burst, Zach Adams on a 44-yard dash and freshman Kedrin Parker on a 6-yard carry.
Junior Travon Newsome’s recovery of a muffed punt reception set up the Bruins’ first second-half TD at the Panthers’ 17-yard line. The first play after junior Jalil Hutcherson’s second interception, Adams galloped for his TD.
Beddingfield’s final scoring drive was kept alive when Malik Davis recovered the fumble of his teammate, Hinnant.
North Johnston’s first-quarter TDs came on Aycock’s 5-yard keeper after recovering his fumble and Aycock’s 31-yard toss to Kenneth Lee. The TDs resulted after an interception by Beddingfield’s Hutcherson killed a threat on the Panthers’ first possession.
In the closing moments, Lee’s 24-yard halfback pass to Peeden set up Aycock’s 6-yard TD shovel pass to senior Brennan Rabil. Junior Graham Walston kicked the extra point after the first and third TDs.
Conference play continues for both squads this Friday, with Beddingfield visiting winless North Pitt and North Johnston visiting Farmville Central.