In his first official start under center for the Central Red Devils, quarterback Jamal Howard passed over and ran around the Russell County defense.
Behind his 203 yards passing and 35 on the ground, the Red Devils notched a 48-0 opening-game win over the Warriors on Thursday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
"I had some first-game jitters at the beginning of the game, but after the first play, it felt just how we practice," Howard said. "I mean, we had a few mistakes, but we'll get better."
Howard had a strong connection with wide receiver Traveon Samuel from the team's opening snap on offense. After the Central defense forced a Russell County three-and-out, Howard connected on a 40-yard pass to Samuel to set his team up in Warrior territory. Central capped that drive with an 8-yard run into the end zone by running back Kenneth Thomas.
Howard connected twice more in the game with Samuel, a 43-yarder and a 23-yarder. In all, Samuel hauled in three passes for 106 yards. He also ran for a 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give Central a 34-0 lead.
"We work on our routes together a lot," Howard said, including the other wide receivers as well. "Coach (Ryan) Nelson really gets on us about timing and my footwork."
Khaled Berklin notched three catches for 77 yards, his third a 7-yard scoring strike from Howard in the third quarter to make the score 41-0. It was Howard's final pass of the game. Howard finished 9 of 13 for 203 yards and a score through the air, and added a 27-yard touchdown on the ground.
While Central ate up most of its yardage via its aerial attack, the ones that counted came, in large part, on the ground.
Not to be forgotten, Deon Hall ran for 32 first-half yards, including two touchdowns to pace the Red Devils offense early.
His first touchdown came less than a minute after Thomas scored first for Central. After the Red Devil defense forced a fumble, recovered by Akil Perry, Hall capped a two-play, 40-yard drive with an 8-yard score. Just over two minutes later, he was in the end zone again.
Always a voice of reason, Central coach Woodrow Lowe wouldn't get overly excited about the win. He congratulated his team on a great game, but stressed that it has a long way to go.
He wants to see the passing game take advantage of defenses downfield more often. While Howard was able to connect with Samuel for a few big plays, they were unable to fully take advantage of the secondary, he said.
"I'm pleased with the offense, but we need to get more downfield," he said. "(Samuel) had a couple, but they caught up with him. We have to get the defense on their heels and take advantage."
The offense tallied 374 yards in all, 218 of which came through the air.
The defense, somehow, was overshadowed in a game in which it allowed just three first downs and 45 yards.
"I don't have a whole lot to say about the D," Lowe said. "I kind of expected that, and we've got nine other games. We have to maintain humility."
On the other sideline, Demond McCoy said that he did see some good things from his team, first and foremost that it didn't quit.
"They got frustrated, but they kept fighting," McCoy said. "It let us know that we have a lot of work to do."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Thursday at Garrett-Harrison
Russell County 0 0 0 0--0
Central 27 7 7 7--48
C--Thomas 8 run (Chancellor kick); 8:13
C--Hall 8 run (kick failed); 7:22
C--Hall 3 run (Chancellor kick); 5:06
C--Howard 27 run (Chancellor kick); :30
C--Samuel 5 run (Chancellor kick); :23
C--Berklin 7 pass from Howard (Chancellor kick); 5:24
C--Weaver 15 pass from Baber (Chancellor kick); 10:25
Team records: Central-Phenix City (1-0); Russell County (0-1) Next: Central-Phenix City, Sept. 7 vs. Carver-Montgomery; Russell County, Sept. 7 vs. Carroll