It took Charlotte Catholic nearly two full quarters to shake off the rust from its bye week.
But once the Cougars (4-1) did, they cruised to a 40-18 win over Phillip O’Berry Academy at the Cardinals’ Nest on Friday to kick off their SoMeck 8 conference play.
Things didn’t look good for the Sweet 16’s No. 7 Cougars early on, with Berry (2-3) jumping out to a 12-3 lead in the second quarter.
With the clock showing just under two minutes remaining in the half, the Cardinals pinned Catholic inside its own one-yard line with a perfect punt, sparking a Cougars assistant coach to mutter, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” from his seat in the corner of the press box.
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However, one play later, Nick Rizzieri changed the entire complexion of the game with a 61-yard run right up the gut of the Cardinals’ defense that ended with a 15-yard horse-collar penalty.
The big gain set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Walton to Jake Priester with 29 seconds remaining in the half. It was Walton’s first completion of the game.
“Instead of going down two scores at halftime, we got in there only down two points,” said Cougars first-year head coach Mike Brodowicz. “That was big because Berry came out there and just took it to us. They won the first half and they beat us in every aspect of the game.
“In the second half, we just challenged the team to get back to playing Catholic football,” Brodowicz continued. “Coming off a bye week with 18-year-olds, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Catholic, who received the ball after the half, would go on to outscore the Cardinals 30-6 in the second half thanks in large part to Jaret Anderson, who finished the game with three touchdowns and just under 100 yards rushing.
In total, seven different Cougars ran the ball on Friday night, helping Catholic to wrack up nearly 250 yards on the ground.
“That’s Charlotte Catholic football,” Brodowicz said. “We’ve got a five-headed attack – now, Jaret Anderson has gotten a lot of yards – but we come at you a lot of different ways.”
A week after Malik Brown ran the ball 28 times for 137 yards and three scores in a 36-26 victory over West Charlotte, the Catholic defense held the reigning Player of the Week to just 50 yards on 11 carries.
Cardinals quarterback Kiante Cotton finished the night 12 of 25 for 198 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“After a bye week, you never know what’s in kid’s heads; what they’re thinking,” said Brodowicz, whose team will host Harding University on Friday. “I’m glad it’s over with and we’re back into our routine.”