RALEIGH — Leesville Road got a slower start than usual, but the Pride walked away from Athens Drive with a 39-3 nonconference win Friday night.
Athens Drive forced a three-and-out on Leesville’s opening possession, but the Pride had its way as the game wore on.
Leesville (3-0) drove 93 yards on eight plays on its next possession with senior Braxton Berrios capping the drive with a 10-yard score.
Berrios would finish with four touchdowns on 189 yards on 15 carries, and 7 of 10 passing for 74 yards, for the Pride as the team came off of a bye week.
Athens Drive (2-2), which had come up empty on the final three plays of its first drive, including a fourth-and-three attempt on the Leesville 7-yard line, got on the board with a 32-yard field goal by Colin McCormac on its next possession.
That score, less than a minute into the second quarter, would be the only points for the Jaguars as the Pride defense stalled Athens on downs, and gave up nothing in the red zone.
“I thought our kids came in with a pretty good effort starting off, and then they got a little down in the second half, and a team like that just wears on you,” Athens Drive coach Chris Martin said. “We were in the red zone four times and we didn’t come away with much, just a field goal. … That hurt us. We’ve got to make those plays there. We’ve got to score.”
Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers said that while his defense gave up some yards, allowing Athens to move the ball downfield and into scoring territory at times, he was happy that the Pride were able to make those critical stands.
“I don’t want to count on that every night, but I’m very proud of them bending, but not breaking tonight,” he said.
Leesville would score twice more before halftime, showcasing the team’s speed in different ways.
Malcolm Hitchcock recovered his own fumble on Athens Drive’s kickoff and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown, turning a four-point game into a 12 point game after the Pride successful completed a two-point conversion.
Leesville was scoreless on its next two possessions, but got the ball back on their own 44-yard line with less than 55 seconds remaining in the half. The Pride used three plays over 30 seconds to score on another Berrios run.
“They were as advertised,” Martin said of Leesville Road. “They were strong in all phases, and it’s hard to prepare for that.”
The Pride’s 22-3 halftime lead was actually about half what Leesville Road scored by the midway point against its first two opponents of the season.
“We knew they were a good team,” Berrios said. “We knew they were probably the best team we’ve faced so far, a great non conference opponent. We got off to a fairly slow start. … We picked it up and made some adjustments on offense and defense, so it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
The Pride scored on its first three possessions of the second half. Berrios ran in two more scores, and kicker Parker Yount nailed a 42-yard field goal.
Two of those scores came on possession gained by interceptions.
Athens Drive quarterback John Politis finished with 156 yards on 17 of 34 passes and four interceptions. Jaguars running back Dominique Lynch led Athens on the ground with 84 yards on 21 rushes.
Mike Dehaney carried 11 times for 83 yards for the Pride, and Elisah Richardson pulled in six catches for 81 yards.
“We try to get better every week and we try to focus on ourselves,” Smothers said. “It is a process. This is a long season. We’ve played three games, so it’s only week four. There’s a lot of football to be played. We have heavy hitter coming in next week with Panther Creek, and then …. it’s going to be dogfight to the very end.”
Leesville will host Panther Creek next week, while Athens hosts Green Hope.