WENDELL — A big game by big running back Damontay Rhem helped East Wake to a 44-18 win over South Johnston on Friday.
The Warriors junior scored three times on the ground from distances of 13, 6 and 28 yards while amassing 216 rushing yards.
“My O-line did a great job,” Rhem said. “Them as a group and me as an individual know what they’re supposed to do and what I’m supposed to do. All night, we were just clicking.”
The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder also led the Warriors in receiving, hauling in 75 yards on just two catches.
East Wake scored first on a 96-yard opening kickoff return by Jalon Lindsay and scored three more times before the Trojans found the end zone. Much of the cause for South’s early scoring drought was the East Wake defensive line, according to Trojans coach Shane Dular.
“We’re a tad undersized on the front,” Dular said. “East Wake’s got some big, strong (defensive) linemen and we knew that going in.
“Our game plan was to go fast and run screens and tire them out. We did some good things in spurts, we just couldn’t quite keep it together.”
Rhem’s 13-yard dash came with a minute left in the first quarter. Warriors quarterback Trent Evans targeted tight end Gavin Leach for a 7-yard touchdown pass and Rhem’s 6-yard run, dragging Trojans players along with him, punctuated East Wake’s scoring in the first half.
South Johnston first got on the board with just over three minutes left in the half on a 23-yard strike from Garrett Smith to Devin Harris. Jovanni Harrera’s extra point kick missed its mark, leaving East Wake up 28-6 at the break.
The Warriors’ final two touchdowns came in the third quarter on a 4-yard pass from Evans to Evan Finch, followed by Rhem’s 28-yard rush to the left pylon. Jonathan Adams made five of six extra points before making a 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
South Johnston got its final two scores in the fourth – first by Smith on a keeper up the left side and finally by Smith’s 3-yard pass to Drew Mustgrave. Both extra point attempts failed.
Smith gave his offense its spark in the second half with 10 straight passes for a total of 108 yards. He finished the game 18-of-20 for 183 yards through the air.
Evans finished 12-of-19 for 223 passing yards.
For East Wake coach John Poulnott, the outcome was a relief compared to last year’s 14-13 season-opening loss that was decided on a missed extra point kick.
“It was a good test,” Poulnott said of Friday’s game. “(South Johnston) has a good tradition going on right now, so having an established program come in here and getting a win was really big for us.”
Like most coaches, Dular considers the season broken into three parts – non-conference, conference and playoffs. He reminded his players there’s still plenty to play for in the weeks ahead.
“This game counts and it hurts and our guys are going to feel the pain, but on Monday we have to go back to work and get ready for West (Johnston),” Dular said.