West Mecklenburg High turned takeaways into a runaway win in its SoMeck 8 opener.
The Hawks forced five turnovers and limited Ardrey Kell to 86 yards of total offense in a 33-0 victory Friday at Berry Academy to improve to 5-0.
West Meck’s defensive dominance, sparked by defensive back Donnell Gardner’s fumble recovery and interception, made the offense’s job much easier by providing superior field position once possession changed. Gardner also scored on a 33-yard pass from Jalan McClendon.
“Donnell did a tremendous job tonight,” West coach Jeff Caldwell said. “We know he’s capable of that, and so are a couple of our athletes. We just tell our athletes to live in the moment and when the moment comes, take advantage of it and play as hard as you can.”
West Meck found much to enjoy on offense as well. McClendon passed for four touchdowns and ran for another to spark the offense, with three going to wideout/running back Van Smith, who accounted for 140 yards total offense. McClendon hit 14 of 28 passes for 154 yards and ran for another 67 on 10 carries.
Although running back Shaun Wilson was limited to 21 yards on 15 carries, West was more than adequate on the ground, churning out 194 yards as a team with McClendon and Smith (eight carries for 65 yards) leading the way.
“I don’t care who we’re playing,” Ardrey Kell coach Adam Hastings said. “We’re never going to have a chance offensively when we turn the ball over like we did. We didn’t execute. That’s what it all comes down to.”
West Meck’s defense set the tempo by forcing three turnovers and limiting Ardrey Kell (3-2, 0-1) to 9 yards total offense before halftime, including minus-15 rushing, to grab a 19-0 lead. Smith’s interception at the Hawks’ 48 led to a 12-yard strike from McClendon to Smith for the game’s first score, and Gardner’s fumble return to the Knights’ 28 resulted in McClendon’s 7-yard dart to Smith.
“We’ve known for a while we had more starters coming back on defense this year and they matured before the offense did,” Caldwell said. “It’s just the names on offense got bigger recognition, but our defense plays together and they all have one common goal. They enjoy playing defense.”
McClendon and Smith sparked the offense by connecting on scoring passes of 12, 7 and 11 yards to more than compensate for the Hawks’ limitations on the ground.
Ardrey Kell keyed on Wilson, who produced minus-5 yards on nine carries, but Smith and McClendon picked up the slack with a combined 74 yards on eight attempts. The Hawks gained 172 yards in the first half.
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