Northern wins second straight after 0-6 start
Starting PAC-6 play was like hitting the reset button for Northern as the Knights picked up their second straight win with a 42-6 victory over East Chapel Hill on Friday night at Durham County Memorial Stadium.
"We came out with a lot of intensity, which was important," first-year Northern coach R.J. Wilson said. "It's back-to-back wins, which feels good after our non-conference struggles. The team is coming together. We went into the conference season 0-0 and we wiped out everything that happened before."
Northern (2-6, 2-0 PAC-6) limped through the first half of the season with six straight losses against non-conference foes. But in their last two games, the Knights have come up winners. Next week gets tougher, though, as Northern goes to Hillside.
Northern quarterback Zaaqhai Mann scored touchdowns on runs of 17 and 33 yards in the first half as the Knights continued their dominance over East Chapel Hill.
"We're playing more as a team and that helped us make big plays," Mann said. "We're getting good blocking and the defense stepped it up tonight."
The Wildcats, who have only beaten Northern once, narrowly avoided their first shutout since 2009, when third-string quarterback Sean Moore threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Ty Woodard with 21.3 seconds left in the game.
East Chapel Hill (1-7, 0-2), after averaging almost 22 points per game in their first four contests, has been limited to 30 total points in its last four games. The demise of depth up front has coincided with the Wildcats' offensive woes, according to first-year coach Jon Sherman.
"We've at least scored every game," Sherman said. "We've not had consistent line play because of injuries and that's not on the kids. That's caused our production to go down."
The Knights overcame some early miscues before they started rolling in this game, though.
After getting the ball for the first time and driving down to the East Chapel Hill 6, Northern had a touchdown run by Mann taken off the scoreboard because of a false start penalty. Then two plays later, Issy Settles intercepted a pass from Mann and returned it to the 30.
But Northern held the Wildcats to a three-and-out to get the ball back. Raquan Riley sacked East Chapel Hill quarterback Connor Stough for an 11-yard loss on third down, knocking him out with an apparent right ankle injury. The Wildcats later would lose backup Ian Levin with an injury and got to Moore in the fourth quarter.
Northern, meanwhile, took advantage of good field position at their own 40 and marched 60 yards for a touchdown as Mann scampered around the left side for a 17-yard score with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
Northern added a pair of scores in the second quarter as Jacob Bierman intercepted a pass from Ian Levin that deflected off a couple of players and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0. And Mann capped off Northern's next possession with a 33-yard touchdown run after the Knights took over at the East Chapel Hill 46.
Alphons Gbojueh added a 17-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to give the Knights a 28-0 lead. And Deshon Holmes broke off a 68-yard scoring run with 13 seconds left in the third to make it 35-0. Marcus Starr rounded out Northern's scoring with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter with a 22-yard touchdown run.
Northern finished with 408 yards of total offense, while the Wildcats managed just 93 and were forced to punt nine times.
Northern 42, East Chapel Hill 6
East Chapel Hill|0|0|0|6_ 6
N_Zaaqhai Mann 17 run (T.J. Milby kick)
N_Jacob Bierman 70 interception return (Milby kick)
N_Zaaqhai 33 run (Milby kick)
N_Alphons Gbojueh 17 run (Milby kick)
N_Deshon Holmes 68 run (Milby kick)
N_Marcus Starr 22 run (Milby kick)
ECH_Ty Woodard 5 pass from Sean Moore (pass failed)
Rushing_East Chapel Hill: Ian Levin 8-11, Colby Owens 5-17, Ty Woodard 3-10, Chris Fowler 2-(minus-2), Jeremy Hubbard 7-0, Connor Stough 1-(minus-11), Sean Moore 5-(minus-19). Northern: Alphons Gbojueh 15-116, Zaaqhai Mann 12-66, Marcus Starr 5-59, Kelvin Belle 5-23, Dejuan Graham 1-8, Deshon Holmes 6-110, Griffin Baker 1-0.
Passing_East Chapel Hill: Levin 0-5-0-1, Stough 3-3-8-0, Moore 4-8-56-0. Northern: Mann 2-5-26-1, Baker 0-1-0-0.
Receiving_East Chapel Hill: Owens 1-6, Adam Garzon 2-15, Woodard 3-18, Justin Douglas 1-25. Northern: Jalen Nixon 1-3, Atavion Oliver 1-23.
Records_East Chapel Hill 1-7, 0-2 PAC-6. Northern 2-6, 2-0.