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Young Quarterback Adds to Seventy-First Success


As Seventy-First head football coach Duran McLaurin was putting his team together this season, he knew he already had key pieces in place coming off an abbreviated COVID-19 spring campaign in which the Falcons finished 2-4 and missed the state playoffs.

Deandre Nance

But with experience returning at several key positions, he made a somewhat surprising call when it came to quarterback, electing to hand the ball to freshman Deandre Nance.

The decision was as big a surprise to Nance. “I was in shock,’’ he said. “It made me work harder. I wanted to make sure he made the right decision.’’

With just two games left in the regular season, and the Falcons standing 8-0 and alone at the top of the United 8 Conference, no one is questioning McLaurin’s call.

The running game, led by Anthony Quinn Jr. and Jayden Shotwell, is clearly the focus of the Falcon offense, but Nance has served as more than a placeholder at quarterback. He’s one of the most efficient passers in Cumberland County, with a pass rating of 123.1 according to stats at ncprepsports.net.

Through Oct. 20, Nance has completed 52 of 74 throws, an impressive 70.3 percent. He has 649 yards, seven touchdown passes and only one interception.

None of this was a shock to McLaurin, who has had his eye on Nance since the freshman was playing at John Griffin Middle School.

Nance already had a strong family link with Seventy-First. His mother works there, and his dad was a Falcon basketball player during Coach McLaurin’s playing days with the Falcons.

At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Nance has adequate size for the position, and his style of play reminds McLaurin a lot of another former Falcon quarterback, Kyler Davis.

“He had been consistent all summer,’’ McLaurin said of Nance’s performance leading up to the 2021 fall season.

“He showed a lot of poise and maturity. Going into the E.E. Smith game (the Falcons’ opener) I felt he could do it. He gave us a chance to be successful.’’

Young players sometimes don’t fit well when asked to step in with veterans, but McLaurin said that was not a problem with Nance.

“They had confidence in him throughout the summer when they saw him throwing,’’ McLaurin said. “He did some 7-on-7s and earned their respect. He earned their trust though the summer workouts.’’

Once Nance established himself, McLaurin said he made the passing game a viable option for the Falcons, which only serves to accent the already potent Seventy-First ground attack with Quinn and Shotwell.

“At some point, people are going to stack the box,’’ McLaurin said, meaning defenses will put most of their players close to the line of scrimmage trying to stop Seventy-First on the ground.

“The more they are concerned with helping with the run, the less they are concerned with helping out in the passing game, which helps him (Nance) throw against man-to-man coverage.’’ In turn, that will create more play-calling options.

The Falcons host Lumberton tonight and visit Douglas Byrd next week to wrap up the regular season. Lumberton’s lone win this season was against Byrd, while the Eagles are winless this season.

McLaurin isn’t planning any celebrations even though many think the United 8 conference title for the Falcons is a foregone conclusion.

“We’re going to continue to practice hard and stay on schedule,’’ he said. “It’s important for us to work on things we’re going to need later on in the playoffs. Playing clean games, staying healthy and executing properly is what’s most important. Sometimes it’s hard to get the kids to understand that.’’

Nance has the same mindset as his head coach. “Everybody is competition to us,’’ he said. “We’ve always got to fight through and win.’’

• The Gray’s Creek volleyball team wrapped up a 24-0 regular season in the United 8 Conference with a tough 19-25, 25-19, 25-23, 27-25 win over Cape Fear.

The Bears’ Kylie Aldridge continued to add to her Cumberland County record total of kills with 368 for the season.

Gray’s Creek earned the No. 5 seed in the East in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A volleyball playoffs and will host New Hanover.

In other matches involving 4-A Cumberland County Schools, No. 32 Pine Forest visits No. 1 Greenville Conley, No. 18 Jack Britt is at Corinth Holders and No. 30 South View is at Pinecrest.

In the 3-A playoffs, No. 5 Cape Fear is home to No. 28 Wilson Fike. No. 21 Terry Sanford visits No. 12 Northwood and No. 31 Seventy-First is at No. 2 Greenville Rose.

• Both Cape Fear and Terry Sanford scored comfortable wins in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A dual team tennis playoffs Wednesday.

Cape Fear, winner of the United 8 Conference, beat West Johnston 9-0. Terry Sanford, the All American Conference winner, took a 5-1 win over Burlington Williams.

Both teams advance to the second round of the tournament Tuesday.

Cape Fear, 13-1, hosts Hillsborough Orange, 13-4. Cape Fear is the No. 5 seed, Orange No. 13.

Terry Sanford, 10-1 and the No. 6 seed, travels to face No. 3 seed Greenville Rose. Rose is 13-0. Both Cape Fear and Terry Sanford need two more wins each to face off again on Nov. 3 for the 3-A Eastern title.

• Fayetteville Academy was the lone Cumberland County school in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association to survive the second round of the soccer playoffs Tuesday.

The Eagles beat Thales-Rolesville 4-1 and will be at home Saturday for a quarterfinal round game in the 2-A playoffs against Statesville Christian School. The Eagles are the No. 2 seed at 11-8, while Statesville is No. 3 at 12-4.

In NCISAA volleyball a pair of local teams are still alive. Freedom Christian beat Fayetteville Academy 3-1 Thursday in the 2-A playoffs. In 3-A, Fayetteville Christian downed Cape Fear Academy 3-0.

In Saturday’s 2-A quarterfinals, Freedom, the No. 6 seed at 15-8, visits top-seeded Gaston Day, 27-1. The 3-A playoffs have Fayetteville Christian, No. 6 at 18-1, traveling to Grace Christian of Raleigh, 13-2.