When Catawba Ridge’s starting quarterback Tyler Fikis came up limping after a sack midway through the second quarter, head coach Zac Lendyak knew he couldn’t turn to his assigned backup, Nate Thomas, to fill in.
Thomas was still recovering from an injury sustained during last week’s season-opening win over crosstown rival Fort Mill. So Lendyak called up junior DJ Latimer.
“We talked about what we could do in an emergency situation like this,” Lendyak said. “DJ had been working all summer. We called his number and said ‘You gotta get in there.’”
Despite having no reps at quarterback all week long, Latimer stepped up and helped lead his team to a 16-0 non-region shutout win over the visiting Myers Park High out of Charlotte.
Catawba Ridge led 9-0 midway through the second quarter when Fikis, a senior, suffered an injury to his right leg and had to be subbed off. Latimer took over on the next Copperheads possession and helped manage the offense to a win over the next two-and-a-half quarters.
“To come in there and do what he just did, I can’t tell you how proud I am of that young man,” Lendyak said.
The Copperheads, now 2-0, overcame a nearly two-hour long lightning delay that paused the game just minutes into the first quarter. And when the game resumed around 9:30 p.m., the Copperheads saw some of their starters pick up injuries, forcing Lendyak to bring on freshmen and sophomores to finish out the game.
Fighting against adversity, Lendyak told his team after the final whistle, is the sign of a championship-caliber team.
Junior running back Ira Mister, who scored an electric 53-yard touchdown for the Copperheads in the win, agrees.
“We’ve got soldiers,” he said. “I go down, (Evan Hamilton) goes up. Evan goes down, (Brayden Wasik) goes up, and we’ve got Tyler (Jones) starting. We’ve got every position on lock. We’ve got dogs.”
The game was less than five minutes old before officials spotted lightning in the distance around 7:45 p.m. School officials called a halt to the game, and players retreated to the fieldhouse.
The delay lasted for nearly two hours, with players finally emerging at 9:15 p.m. and play resuming about 15 minutes later.
Catawba Ridge’s first drive had been stalled at the Myers Park 13. Despite making it to the seven, running back Tyler Jones couldn’t breach the end zone, leading kicker Kohen Kozel to open the scoring with a 23-yard field goal.
The Copperheads had another promising opportunity on their second drive, but Fikis was picked off by Jack Muckenfuss on the far side just seconds before the end of the first quarter.
Myers Park was forced to punt on its next possession, but the Mustangs’ punter was unable to handle the snap, and Catawba Ridge took over inside the Myers Park 10-yard line.
Jones pushed his way into the end zone from two yards out to give his team a 9-0 lead after Kozel missed his point-after kick.
Myers Park nearly answered immediately. Ty’Sun Austin returned the ensuing Catawba Ridge kickoff nearly 80 yards from his own 10-yard line to the Catawba Ridge 14.
But quarterback Wendell Thompson couldn’t connect with his wide receivers, and he sailed a fourth and 14 attempt too high.
Fikis and company took over, but the senior signal-caller came up limping after a sack, and he was replaced by Latimer with 8:34 left in the first half.
Lendyak’s team was forced to focus on the run game, and the Copperheads made it work with short gains to midfield.
Mister finally broke the mold when he bounced to the near sideline and broke off an electric 53-yard touchdown with tacklers flying behind him. Kozel nailed the PAT to give Catawba Ridge a 16-0 lead heading into the halftime break.
The play was supposed to be an inside run, Mister said. But when a receiver block gave Mister room to run, he took it.
“I went between them, and it was a touchdown,” he said. “Crazy, crazy feeling, my first varsity touchdown. It feels amazing.”
The two teams traded punts throughout an ultimately scoreless second half, but the damage was done, and the Copperheads defense refused to let Myers Park back into the game. The Mustangs never started further than their own 25-yard line in the second half.
While the Copperheads committed five fumbles throughout the game, they only lost one.
Lendyak said he would monitor the health of Fikis and an important playmaker on defense, Rasean Marajah. Both players suffered injuries during the game, and Lendyak said he was anxious to learn more about the severity of the injuries.
“We want to get as healthy as possible,” he said. “Non-region games are great, we want to win them, but we want to get out of there injury-free. We need to get them healthy in the next couple weeks.”