When Northside senior AJ Burris prepared to field a punt midway through the third quarter of Friday’s game against Jordan, he said he had a smile on his face. Once he caught the ball and took off, it became evident why.
With Northside trailing 14-7, Burris caught the punt on the Patriots’ 40-yard line and bolted to his right. The senior darted past the Red Jackets’ coverage team, eventually finding the end zone for a 60-yard score.
It was a touchdown that ignited the Patriots, leading to an all-Northside second half in a 35-14 victory.
“Once I caught it, I just looked to my right and saw my teammates set up a wall,” said Burris, who now has three non-offensive touchdowns in 2017. “I just grabbed the ball and didn’t even think. I just reacted, ran down that way and knew my teammates had my back.”
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Burris’ take-off for the touchdown was part of a 21-0 second half for Northside. The special teams score changed the tone of the game for Northside (3-0, 0-0), which coughed the ball up twice in the first half and left Jordan (1-2, 0-0) several chances to pull off the upset victory.
“There were too many mistakes in the first half,” Northside head coach Morgan Ingram said. “I didn’t think we came out with a lot of energy or enthusiasm in the first half. Once something clicks and a lot of energy gets going, then everything starts clicking. A big play like that gets a spark.”
After evening the score at 14-14 with Burris’ touchdown, the Patriots made some more noise on the second play of their next drive. Quarterback Chandler Blanton fired a bomb to wide receiver Quincy Brown, who avoided the falling defender and took off for a 69-yard TD.
Northside doubled its lead with 1:05 to go in the third quarter, as Marcus Smith put up a touchdown run from 7 yards out. Fred Davis added a touchdown to his strong night with 4:59 left in the game, punching his way through on a 1-yard run.
The Patriots could practically do no wrong in the final 24 minutes, a direct contrast to how they opened the game. Northside found itself down 14-0 halfway through the second quarter due in large part to two interceptions.
Jordan, meanwhile, took advantage of those early miscues. Quarterback Emmanuel Mann found Junior Hill on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 11:43 left in the second quarter for the game’s first points. Mann added seven more with a 6-yard quarterback keeper three minutes later.
The Northside offense remained mostly dormant until there were 32 seconds left before halftime, when Blanton found Tanner Gallahair for an 8-yard score. The touchdown pass showed the Patriots were down but not out, which was how the game remained until Burris got his hands on the ball.
Ingram lauded Burris as one of the team leaders despite this being his first season as a Patriot. He described Burris as one of the true playmakers on the roster, something Burris has already proven multiple times.
Burris said the Patriots often turn to him to make something happen. His latest touchdown was just another example of living up to that challenge, and as a result, the Patriots enter region play undefeated.
“My teammates look at me as the starter of the energy, to get the momentum on our side,” Burris said. “I just tried to get things moving. Once I caught the ball and scored, I already knew my team was going to pick up the energy from there.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports