The Maiden Blue Devils broke open a close game with two fourth-quarter scores and defeated rival Newton-Conover 33-14 in the latest installment of the bitter “Devil Week” rivalry.
The victory clinched the South Fork 2A Conference championship for the Blue Devils (5-0) after West Lincoln defeated East Lincoln on Friday. It is Maiden’s first conference title since 2017.
“It’s a tough league,” said Maiden head coach Will Byrne. “You’ve got to come every week. There’s no off weeks, especially with the way the league is turning out players.”
The Blue Devils will look to complete a perfect regular season when they host Lincolnton on April 9.
The loss eliminated the Red Devils (2-3) from the playoff picture. Newton-Conover will close out the season at East Lincoln. Maiden has won six in a row against the Red Devils and increased its lead in the series to 29-23-1.
Turnovers proved to be crucial in the Blue Devils’ victory. Maiden turned two fumbles and an interception into 21 points. But it was a conversion on fourth down in the game’s final quarter that allowed Maiden to put the game away.
Maiden started quickly with Amarion Craig (27 carries, 125 yards) finishing the Blue Devils’ opening drive on a three-yard touchdown run. Carson Foard added the point-after-touchdown kick for a 7-0 lead.
After stopping the Blue Devils on downs near midfield, Newton-Conover looked ready to answer the initial score. Allan Shade was the workhorse, with five carries on the team’s next seven plays. His running led the Red Devils to the Maiden 10 yard line. But a handoff between Shade and quarterback Justice Craig was fumbled. The Blue Devils recovered.
From there, Maiden went 89 yards on 12 plays for the second touchdown. The big play was a 48-yard pass from Ethan Rhodes to Chris Culliver. Rhodes finished off the drive with a bootleg for a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Maiden attempted a two-point conversion that was stopped. Maiden led 13-0.
Maiden’s defense was able to effectively slow Allan Shade. The Red Devils’ feature back entered the matchup averaging 214 yards per game. Maiden held the senior to 24 yards in the first half and 111 for the contest. Forty-one of those came on the final drive with the game already decided.
“We knew we had to stop 24 (Shade) and make them throw it,” said Byrne. “All week, it was focus on 24. Where is he at? All eyes on 24. Not that we’re selling out to it, but we wanted to hold him. We knew he was going to get his yards. … The defense is playing great, and the kids believe in what we’re doing defensively, and it shows.”
Held to only 65 yards of total offense in the first half, Newton-Conover seized momentum in front of its home crowd and nearly matched that total on the first drive of the second half. Justin Craig completed a slant pass to Quincey Spain for 11 yards. The two paired up on the next play for 45 yards and a score. Dax Shannon added the extra point, and the Red Devils were a touchdown from the lead at 13-7.
Energized, the Red Devils’ defense continued the momentum with a three-and-out stop that included a big hit by Rakim Moore on Blue Devils receiver Brennan James to break up a pass play.
Red Devils head coach Steven Pack said there was no magic in the halftime speech by the coaches, other than to clean up mistakes.
“This is a really easy group of players to coach,” said Pack. “All we said was to keep the pressure up. We shot ourselves in the foot. There were certainly some things we did well.”
Maiden punted the ball away, which gave Newton-Conover a chance to take the lead.
However, an errant snap was recovered by Maiden at the Red Devils’ 27, and Amarion Craig quickly cashed in the turnover with his second rushing touchdown to push the lead to 20-7.
Byrne agreed the sequence helped shut down the fast start by Newton-Conover.
“You always preach — get a stop and get a score — and we’re in good position,” said Byrnes. “And they did that.”
Newton-Conover regrouped and stayed in the game. A two-yard punt by the Blue Devils set up the Red Devils near midfield. Eight plays later, Shade shook off a tackle at the line of scrimmage to score a touchdown on a two-yard run to close the gap to 20-14 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
The key moment of the game came on Maiden’s next possession. Facing a fourth down and 13 yards to go for a first down at the Red Devils’ 44, the Blue Devils set up to punt. But after a timeout, Maiden opted to gamble. An 18-yard pass play from Rhodes to James gave Maiden a first down and control of the game.
Byrne said the decision among the coaches was based partially on field position and the memory of the previous two-yard punt.
“We were in their territory anyway,” said Byrne. “With some of the stuff we’ve got in the passing game, a lot of the stuff is intermediate, where we could get to the chains. … Ethan made a great throw, and James made a great catch.”
On the next play, Newton-Conover nearly turned the game around. A.J. Cauthen dropped an interception. With a reprieve, Rhodes and James again kept the drive alive by converting on third down. Rhodes finished it off the drive with a touchdown run from the 1 with 7:44 to play to make it 26-14.
“That was a big one,” said Pack of the fourth-quarter series. “We’ve got to make a play and get off the field.”
Aaron Lefevers sewed up the win with a 25-yard interception for a touchdown.
Maiden: 07 06 07 13 — 33
Newton-Conover: 00 00 14 0 — 14
M – Amarion Craig 4 run (Carson Foard kick), 8:03
M – Ethan Rhodes 6 run (run failed), 6:47
N-C – Quincey Spain 45 pass from Justice Craig (Shannon Dax kick), 10:02
M – Craig 27 run (Foard kick), 8:07
N-C – Shade 2 run (Dax kick), :32.4
M – Rhodes 1 run (pass failed), 7:44
M – Aaron Lefevers 25 interception returned (Foard kick), 2:27
First Downs: Maiden 16, Newton-Conover 13
Rushes-yards: Maiden 38-175, Newton-Conover 32-98
Comp-Att-Int: Maiden 9-22-1, Newton-Conover 10-18-1
Passing yards: Maiden 150, Newton-Conover 152
Fumbles-Lost: Maiden 0-0, Newton-Conover 5-2
Penalties-yards: Maiden 5-48, Newton-Conover 7-63
RUSHING — Maiden: Amarion Craig 27-125 and 2 TDs, Ethan Rhodes 7-45 and 2 TDs, Ben Gibbs 3-0, Chris Culliver 1-5. Newton-Conover: Allan Shade 27-111 and 1 TD. Justice Craig 3-(-17), Ben Watson 1-10, Team 1-(-6).