On the first play from scrimmage Friday night, North Point junior tailback Marquel Dickerson ran to his left, turned the corner and dashed 80 yards for a touchdown against a Friendship Collegiate squad that had limited past opponents this season to an average of five points per game.
And if it wasn’t clear at that moment, Dickerson and the Eagles continued to re-emphasize throughout their 27-18 upset victory over the third-ranked Knights that confidence was a crucial factor in what became a shocking outcome. One team, the previously-undefeated visitors, entered with too much; the other, a home squad backed against the figurative wall as it pertained to its playoff hopes, had just enough.
When it was over, Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim gathered his players and berated them for their lack of focus and execution. He was critical of himself and of his coaching staff, as well.
“We’re not as good as y’all think we are,” Rahim told his players, who had entered halftime trailing, 20-0. “You can’t spot teams 20 points and think we’re just going to come back.”
But that’s exactly what the Knights (6-1) did, and for the most part, North Point (5-3) capitalized. Dickerson finished with 275 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. He scored on runs of 80, 66 and three yards, respectively. But Dickerson’s most enduring value Friday night to the Eagles may have been his ability to pound the Friendship Collegiate defense for a few yards, down after down.
For all of Friendship’s immense talent and ability, the Knights were inept at tackling the 5-9, 185-pound Dickerson.
When asked whether Friendship had enough respect for his capabilities entering the night, Dickerson said: “Probably not. I was probably underestimated, but after this game, I’m pretty sure they’ll know who I am.”
Friendship’s collective oversight was particularly surprising considering the Knights defeated North Point by just one point last season. Eagles Coach Ken Lane said last year’s outcome afforded his players a high degree of self-efficacy as they prepared for Friday’s matchup.
The Knights proved resurgent in the second half, but their early deficit proved too steep to overcome. When they most needed to, senior linebacker James Gupton and the North Point defense held steady.
“Our kids rose to the challenge,” Lane said. “Knowing that we were able to play a close game with them last year, our guys knew that they weren’t totally in over their heads. And whereas I think a lot of people wouldn’t have given us a chance, our kids believed in themselves.”