Catching Z’s is a good thing for someone who’s tired, but for opponents of the Seventy-First football team it would be wise to seek something else.
The Z’s in particular causing nightmares and not sleep for Falcon opponents this season are defensive ends Zymeir McPhaul and Zaire Ealy, who also start in the offensive line.
The pair is just a part of the reason Seventy-First will seek the Eastern 3A championship in the NCHSAA football playoffs Friday night as they host Northern Nash with revenge on their minds.
It was a year ago the Falcons dropped a 23-22 decision at the Northern Nash field to end their season. This time around, they hope to return the favor to the visiting Knights, with help from McPhaul and Ealy.
Last week the Falcon defense had a difficult time with visiting Southern Alamance, breaking up a late pass to escape with a 32-27 win. Much of the problem was caused by Southern’s use of the Wing-T formation, something the Falcons had little experience with.
“We were just trying to get used to it,’’ Ealy said. “We executed, got used to it and started playing alert. We got the last drive stop.’’
McPhaul gives a lot of credit to Falcon middle linebacker Donovan Frederick.
“He keeps those boys locked in,’’ McPhaul said. “He keeps them straight. Then we’ve got Zayvion Hill and Melik Thomas on the outside, make sure they contain. They do their thing.’’
This week Seventy-First will face a pass-oriented Northern Nash. According to the school’s MaxPreps stats, quarterback Elijay Pitts has thrown for 1,994 yards and 26 touchdowns through 11 games.
Falcon head coach Duran McLaurin said it’s not a matter of Northern throwing the ball a lot. “They do a good job of getting the ball to their playmakers in space,’’ he said. “Those guys do a good job of doing something with it when they get the ball.’’
The key Friday night will be for the Falcons to tackle solidly in the open field and in the secondary to cut down on those big gains.
And it wouldn’t hurt if both McPhaul and Ealy have big nights on the defensive side of the field from their end positions to slow down the Northern offense.
McPhaul said he learned last summer he was going to have to play both offense and defense and took charge of his responsibility. “I still go full speed, 100 percent,’’ he said.
Ealy takes the same approach. “I just have that mindset to where you don’t ever stop," he said. "Keep on going. It got me through the whole year.’’
With their size, aggression and physical talent McLaurin didn’t hesitate to put both McPhaul and Ealy on both sides of the ball. “I trusted them to make sure they didn’t take plays off whenever it was time to come back to offense,’’ he said. “If I didn’t think they could physically do it, then I wouldn’t have put them in a situation.’’
The situation Friday is to get the Falcons to the state 3A championship game, and Ealy knows what it will take.
“This week I want to keep our defense off the field, offense on the field and control the game more,’’ he said.
Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on X, formerly known as Twitter: @EarlVaughanJr.