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10 moments that stuck out in 2018

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Tyquan Lewis, center, his mother Tyronda Whitakers, left, and friend Donnell Arnold react to being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Pinetops, North Carolina.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS AND PATRICK MASON
Sports Writers

Saturday, January 5, 2019

With every new year comes new opportunities to tell new and interesting stories, and that’s what we intend to do with 2018 closing and 2019 beginning.

But, with all the moments worth documenting that happen over the course of a 12-month span, we wanted to take one final look, and wrap one final bow, on the sports year that was 2018 in the Twin Counties.

Here are 10 snapshots from the year that stuck out to us.

Patrick’s five

1. Tarboro defense allows no rushing yards in championship game

Tarboro football had to make this list somewhere. The football powerhouse finished its second consecutive season with an undefeated record, while completing back-to-back seasons with a state football title with a 50-10 win over East Surry on Dec. 15.

And the undefeated Vikings did so while allowing zero rushing yards during the game at N.C. State’s Carter Finley Stadium. It was a fitting end of the season for a defense that allowed 62 points over 15 games and posted seven shutouts.

Tarboro senior defensive lineman Melik Ward was surprised after the win when informed of what he and his teammates accomplished.

“This game? Wow, man, I didn’t know that. Wow, I guess this defense is really special,” Ward said.

Read more about that game here.

2. Lance Norris is the fastest 14-year-old in country

In the middle of March of last year we checked in on a local swimmer that had posted times in the pool that no one in his age group had done.

Lance Norris had the fastest time in the country for 14 year olds in the 1,000-yard, and was the top-ranked swimmer in the state for his age group.

Norris even earned a pair of gold medals at a Junior Olympics meet in Charlotte as part of an eight-event schedule. He medaled in all of his events, taking home four silvers with two sixth-place finishes.

Now a freshman at Nash Central, Norris is working on improving those times and chasing down his goal of swimming in the Olympics.

Read our profile on Norris here.

3. Todd Gurley holds second camp in hometown Tarboro

Todd Gurley made his way back to Tarboro to hold a free football camp for local youths in April.

Gurley’s cost-free camp is relatively unique as many professional athletes can charge hundreds of dollars to attend.

Gurley has used his free camp to interact with the boys and girls of Tarboro, as well as to allow those kids to meet current NFL players. In 2018, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was among those who helped out at various stations.

“Being back in my hometown I wanted to be able to give back because I didn’t have this opportunity growing up,” Gurley said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to do this every year so the kids can come out and enjoy themselves.”

Tarboro High School also used the event to unveil a new sign outside of the football stadium that reads: “Welcome to Tarboro High School, proud home of NFL All-Pro running back and offensive player of the year Todd Gurley II.”

Gurley and his second-seeded Los Angeles Rams have a bye through the first round of the playoffs, and will host a second-round game. The Tarboro grad was the third-leading rusher in the NFL this season with 1,251 yards, behind the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott (1,434) and the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley (1,307).

Read our recap from the camp here.

4. Larry Fedora’s offseason rant

At an otherwise largely uneventful couple of days at the ACC Media Days in Charlotte this past summer, then-North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora let loose with a flurry of bizarre remarks during his individual interview session, and we were there to document it.

Fedora, who would be fired toward the end of the 2018 season after his Tar Heels finished 2-9 and was promptly replaced by Mack Brown, strayed from the normal cliches and decided to talk about how the United States is a great nation because of football.

The coach also spent some time denying any links to brain damage and playing football.

“I feel the game will get pushed so far to one extreme that you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now,” Fedora said. “I do believe, if it gets to that point, that our country goes down, too.”

Read our take on that viral moment here.

5. Houshun Gaines fights through tough season

The Nash Central grad and Virginia Tech defensive lineman entered this season as a starter for the first time in his three years at VT. Gaines had a particularly strong season-opening game on national TV in a win over Florida State, and emerged as one of the top pass rushers in the ACC.

When VT visited Duke on Sept. 29, the redshirt junior helped finish off a 31-14 win with four tackles and 2.5 sacks. And during the postgame interview Gaines revealed that his mother had been dealing with serious health issues.

He spoke about football being his release from those tough personal moments. His mother would die days after that game. Gaines tore his ACL in a Nov. 10 loss to Pitt, but expects to be back next season.

Read our story on Gaines from that weekend against Duke.

Sam’s five

1. Tyquan Lewis hears his name

On April 27, the happiest person in Pinetops was Tyquan Lewis.

Or maybe it was his mother, Tyronda Whitaker.

Either way, those two, surrounded by family friends and three staff members from the Telegram, were under one country roof to hear Lewis’ name called as the 64th pick of the NFL Draft.

After a night’s waiting, Lewis was headed to the house that Peyton built. As a Colts’ rookie, the Tarboro High grad had an injury-slowed season — he sat out of Indianapolis’ playoff game on Saturday against Houston -- but shined when he did play, at one point collecting two sacks in a game against Dallas.

Getting drafted alongside the people who helped him along the way, though, was in a different category of emotions, as Lewis explained that night.

“I’ve never had a feeling like that — never in my life,” he said. “Life changing.”

Read our story from that night here.

2. The Harlem Globetrotters come to town

If you haven’t heard, Rocky Mount recently broke ground on the Rocky Mount Event Center, complete with a basketball court with the capacity to hold 6,000 people.

The hardwood was broken in by a worthy group, when the Harlem Globetrotters put on their show on Nov. 5.

For some longtime residents, it reminded them of a prosperous downtown.

“It’s wonderful, even the train coming by gave me memories,” Jane Snow, who attended the event, said. “I’m so happy to see so many people here. I think something like this is such a positive thing — I’m happy to support it.”

Read our story from that night here.

3. Battle, Knight pick N.C. State

In 2018, Rocky Mount High’s Shyheim Battle and Southern Nash’s Zonovan Knight became two of the most highly-recruited football players in the Twin Counties in a couple of years.

Combined, they had offers from every power five conference except the Pac-12, but both chose over the summer to stay close to home and commit to N.C. State.

The Nash County natives sat down before the 2018 prep football season started to talk about their respective decisions, among a few other topics.

“When we first played Southern Nash in middle school, I didn’t know who he was, but every time he got the ball he was running up the sidelines,” Battle said of his now-teammate. “He frustrated me. In high school, I come to find out he’s a fast kid. A pretty good kid. Had to keep my eye on him. He’s a good baller.”

Read the full Q-A here.

4. Freshman pitchers play big roles in college

Prep football dictates the local sporting scene, and, with the amount of Friday night athletes Nash and Edgecombe Counties have produced over the years, it isn’t hard to understand why.

But a few local college baseball programs were affected this season by three freshmen from Rocky Mount.

Faith Christian’s Landen Roupp made 15 appearances at UNC Wilmington, compiling a 3.58 ERA in 50 innings; Rocky Mount High’s David Harrison made 14 appearances and finished his first college season with a 5.72 ERA at N.C. State; and Rocky Mount Academy’s Reid Johnston won seven games, pitched 64 innings, and had a 3.06 ERA for the Wolfpack.

N.C. State hosted a regional round of the NCAA tournament, and both Johnston and Harrison made starts.

“I was just thinking what every freshman thinks — just hoping to get time and being thankful when you do get time,” Harrison said after his start against Auburn. “All of it comes with the grind, just being humble and waiting your turn. I just waited my turn.”

Read about Harrison and Johnston’s seasons here.

5. Rocky Mount-Southern Nash drew a crowd

The biggest clash of the 2018 regular season football schedule came on Oct. 25, when 7-0 Rocky Mount High traveled to Bailey to take on 6-0 Southern Nash.

The game was loaded with big-time prep players and regional pride, and would essentially decide the winner of the Big East.

In the end, the Gryphons gave the Firebirds their toughest regular season test, but Southern Nash would hold off RMHS for a 35-21 win.

Plus, as an aside, Zonovan Knight needed 179 yards to take over first place on the SNHS all-time rushing list.

He finished with 284 yards.

“I’m more excited about the win, because that was a close game,” Knight said on beating the record. “I knew it was going to be hard game. Two undefeated teams, two of the top-two schools in 3-A, so I knew it was a big matchup.”

Read our recap from that game here.

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