Reynolds High was well on its way to an opening night win last week at Southern Durham.
Having survived a four-hour bus ride and a temperature in the mid-90s at kickoff, the Rockets had allowed less than 200 yards of offense, enjoyed a 24-20 lead and was driving in for the clinching score late in the fourth quarter.
But suddenly the ball, the game and the victory was running away in the opposite direction, a pick six thrown by Alex Flinn that gave Southern Durham a 27-24 win.
That turnover marked the third time the Rockets gave the ball away in the red zone, an earlier fumble and interception also thwarting potential scores that would have put the game away earlier.
“That was the difference right there – the red zone turnovers,” said coach Shane Laws. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to, and we left 21 points right there and that killed us.”
And it doesn’t get any easier for Laws, who believes the best way for his team to get better is to play a challenging non-conference schedule that prepares his team not only for Western Mountain Athletic Conference play but the postseason as well.
The opponent Friday night in the 7:30 p.m. home opener at Dalton Stadium is perennial power Shelby, always one of the top programs in the state.
The Golden Lions (1-0) are 72-10 over the past five seasons and won four straight state 2A titles from 2013-16.
Among those victories are wins each of the past four years against the Rockets, by an average margin of nearly 18 points a game.
“They are a pretty good football team, what we have come to expect every year from them,” said Laws, who has led his program to 33 straight wins over WNC opponents but is 8-8 against teams outside the region since the middle of the 2014 season, including the four losses to Shelby.
“Their defense is really good, and their offense as usual has great skill position players. This is the kind of team you expect to see in the third or fourth round of the playoffs, and we get to see them in Week 2.”
There’s no good time to play a program like Shelby, but Reynolds will be undermanned with injuries to starting defensive players Kyle Duncan and Eddie Rojas.
Expectations are always high in Fairview, and especially so after the Rockets went 14-2 last season and reached the 3A state title game.
And with Flinn leading a group of returning talented starters, the assumption was the Rockets would continue to roll.
But Reynolds lost some solid seniors off last year’s squad, and now face the very real prospect of starting 0-2.
“We’re going to be fine, we’re going to get better and it’s a football team that could be really good,” said Laws, who is 112-37 in his 12th season at Reynolds.
“Everybody – players, coaches, fans – was disappointed in the way we played last week, but we wanted to put our team in a tough situation and learn from that.
“From dealing with adversity and giving a lot of players some experience, last week was good for us. It’s
going to take some time, and we’ll need a few weeks to get better.”
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