Conley beats Rose, retains belt in county rivalry

DH Conley's C.J. Johnson scored a 74-yard touchdown on this play to help lead the Vikings over crosstown rival J.H. Rose Friday. (252Buzz photo by Bill Hudson)

By Mike Grizzard

On a night filled with bizarre bounces and dazzling dashes, the annual clash between arch rivals J.H. Rose and D.H. Conley on a pleasant fall Friday evening quickly turned into a one-sided affair.

The visiting Vikings mixed a balanced offense and aggressive defense with the explosiveness of senior C.J. Johnson to roll to a 48-21 victory, leaving Percy Daniels Field with a six-game winning streak and their fifth win over Rose in the last seven meetings. They also retained the championship belt that goes to the winner.

“It’s special to us,” Conley head coach Nate Conner said. “We decided when we came over here this thing was coming back with us, and we’re very excited to have it still. Let me say this, credit to (Rose) Coach (Dave) Wojtecki and that team. That’s a good football team over there. I don’t want that to be neglected. That’s a good football team. They had a great plan. Our guys played really well tonight, and we came out on top.”

A few different bounces could have dramatically changed Rose’s fortunes. The Rampants had three Nick Hamilton passes in their hands and forced three fumbles but only came up with one turnover. Conley picked off a pair of Grant Charles Jarman passes. One came on a blind-side hit that sent the ball into the hands of Jalin Wright, who raced 96 yards for a score. The other deflected off the hands of receiver Zane Noles and was snared by Blake Mizzelle.

“There were like six turnovers we missed I think,” Wojtecki said. “It’s tough. That happens, but you have to continue to play.”

Rose simply couldn’t match Conley’s efficiency on offense, managing just one first down in its first four possessions and being out-gained 150-37 in the first quarter. Conley finished with 592 yards of total offense -- piling up 299 yard on 40 rushing attempts. Hamilton finished 15-of-25 for 293 yards and three touchdowns.

Rose was limited to 95 yards rushing and finished with 223 yards. Jarman threw for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

An anticipated down-to-the-wire duel never materialized as Conley scored on its opening possession, led 14-0 after one quarter and 27-0 late in the second period. Johnson, headed to East Carolina University next year, silenced any hopes of a Rose rally in the second half with second-half touchdowns on a 74-yard reception and 42-yard run on a jet sweep. He also scored on a 23-yard run in the first half -- one play after Rose forced a Matthew Rostar fumble but failed to pounce on the loose ball.

The versatile Johnson lined up at receiver, running back and in the Wildcat formation and churned out 220 yards. Rose cornerback Silas James kept Johnson in check much of the night, and he had just three catches for 28 yards before his break-away 74-yarder made it 41-14 just 51 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Johnson finished with 118 yards rushing on just seven carries.

“We did a decent job on him for the most part,” Wojtecki said. “He’s going to make plays. He’s a good football player, and he’s going to make them, and he made a few. The other guys did a good job for them of making plays and taking a lot of the pressure off him.”

Nyck Brown (10 carries, 74 yards), Ramon Mabry (6 carries, 50 yards) and Mitchell Hofler (11 carries, 45 yards) bolstered backfield efforts, and six different receivers caught at least one pass.

Conley immediately established its dominance up front and its ground game after three consecutive incomplete passes on Rose’s opening possessions. The Vikings drove 50 in just five plays -- all on the ground -- with Hamilton darting eight yards up the middle on a keeper for a 7-0 lead.

“The first drive for our offense to be able to run the ball the whole way down and do it that way was huge,” Conner said.

Wesley Shade and Phifer Ozimek each had potential interceptions bounce off their hands before Conley was forced to punt on its next possession. A jarring hit caused Rostar to fumble on the next series, but the Vikings won a scramble for the loose ball, Johnson then raced 23 yards on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

A 43-yard pass from Hamilton to Brown put Conley up 21-0. Rose then drove to the VIkings’ 6 when Jarman was hit as he delivered a fourth-down pass. Wright was in the right spot for the fluttering ball and headed 96 yards in the opposite direction.

Rose needed just two plays to answer and get within 27-7 at the half, scoring on 25-yard run by Shaquan Perry.

Field position doomed the Rampants much of the second half -- four positions started inside the 20, and three began inside the 10. One of those came after Johnson was stripped of the ball at the 1 at the end of a 30-yard run. The Vikings also came up an inch short on fourth down at the Rose 5.

“It’s tough to get the ball down there, especially when they’re bringing so much pressure and we’re not doing a good job of getting open,” Wojtecki said. “You’ve only got so long to throw the ball.”

Jarman did connect for a couple of second-half touchdowns. After Hamilton’s 13-yard toss to Chance Brown put the Vikings up 34-7, Grant Humphreys cradled a short toss from Jarman and broke two tackles on the way to a dazzling 84-yard touchdown.

Johnson countered that two plays later with his 74-yard touchdown then added a 42-yard run for a 48-14 lead. Jarman’s 10-yard pass to Zane Noles capped the scoring.

The win helps Conley (6-2) stay on track to defend its Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference title by improving to 4-0 in the league with games remaining against Southern Wayne (1-7, 0-4) and unbeaten South Central (8-0, 4-0). The Rampants slip to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the ECC with games remaining against Eastern Wayne (3-4, 1-2) and New Bern (2-5, 1-2).

Wojtecki is interested to see how his team reacts.

“You’ll see what their character’s all about,” he said. “I thought the guys did a decent job of reacting to what was going on. But we’ll see. We’ll see who comes to work and who kind of folds a little bit this week.”

Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.