Cooper, Gates County defense ‘sizzle’ in win vs. Pasquotank
Published 4:07 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023
GATESVILLE – The temperature wasn’t the only thing that sizzled here Friday night.
Senior DaMari Cooper had career highs in rushing yards (284) and single-game touchdowns (5) while the Gates County defense set-up two scores off turnovers and returned another Pasquotank miscue to the endzone to help the Barons win their home opener, 48-36.
It appeared that Gates County had the game well in-hand when defender Justin Powell scooped up a Panthers fumble and darted 27 yards for a touchdown, staking the Barons to a 20-point lead (34-14) with just under three minutes remaining in a hot and humid first half.
But the visitors answered with a nine play, 69-yard drive capped by a 20-yard TD pass from Mitchell Manuel to Hunter Manjavinos that rallied the Panthers to within 34-20 at intermission.
Pasquotank’s momentum continued in the early stages of the second half where Javion Carthen reeled off a 60-yard run that he followed with a six-yard TD scamper on the game’s next snap. Manuel added the conversion run, allowing the Panthers to pull to within six points at 34-28 at the 9:22 mark of the third quarter.
Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Gates County fumbled, recovered by Pasquotank’s Nehemiah Herbert at the Barons 20 yardline. However, the GCHS defense stood tall, yielding only six yards on three plays. On 4th-and-4, Robert Baker knocked down Manuel’s pass, thus ended the Panthers threat.
Three plays later, Cooper dashed through a huge hole created by Savion Butts and Jauheim Boone and rumbled 80 yards to the endzone. Jaden Parker ran in the conversion for a 42-28 lead.
Gates County’s defense came up with another huge play on the game’s ensuing possession when Cam Lee recovered a Panthers fumble at midfield. On first down from that point, Cooper bounced outside on a run play, cut inside at the 26 and raced untouched to the endzone to complete a 50-yard scoring run. The conversion run failed, but the Barons were out in front by 20 again (48-28) with 4:06 left in the third period.
Pasquotank got to within 48-36 with under six minutes left in the game when Carthen’s three-yard scoring run and his conversion run capped an 11 play drive.
The Panthers saw one final scoring opportunity go to waste when they were flagged for a clipping penalty on a punt return for a touchdown. Instead, they got the ball at the GCHS 25 yardline and a subsequent penalty for holding moved it back 10 more yards to the 35. That drive ended when Baker broke-up passes on third and fourth downs.
Cooper scored two of his five touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of 10 and 14 yards, the latter one coming thanks to key blocks from offensive linemen Carson Stallings and Hunter Coates. He added his third touchdown, an 8-yard run, on the first snap of the second quarter where the Barons built a 20-14 lead.
Both of Pasquotank’s early scores came on big plays by Landon Khun: a 71-yard kickoff return and his 56-yard catch of a touchdown pass from Manuel.
Gates County’s defense had a hand in two touchdowns later in the second quarter. The first came one play after Powell dropped Manuel for an eight-yard sack when DeShaun Parker picked off the Pasquotank quarterback and returned his theft 15 yards to the Panthers 25 yardline. A.J. Riddick scored three plays later on a three-yard TD run.
Powell ran in his fumble return for a score on the game’s ensuing series followed by Cooper’s conversion run that allowed Gates County to build a 34-14 lead.
The Barons finished their night’s work with 423 rushing yards on 43 carries. Other than Cooper’s career effort, Parker added 76 rushing yards on 13 carries while DeAndrey Smith chipped in 56 yards on six attempts.
Manuel (12-of-28 passing for 179 yards) and Carthen (20 rushing attempts for 145 yards) led Pasquotank.
Gates County (1-1 overall) is scheduled to host Manteo High School at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1.