RIDGELY — Big, strong, and athletic, Parkside High’s football team presented a formidable foe Friday night under the lights at “The Ridge.” But the Bulldogs weren’t intimidated — their defense ultimately bendable but not breakable.

Chris Curler’s booming extra-point through the uprights provided the game-winning point as North Caroline battled to a 7-6 victory to begin the season.

Zamir Dennis scored on a 7-yard run with 11 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the game for the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown.

North Caroline’s Owen Doyle blocked an extra-point attempt and Michael Stumph blocked a field goal to keep the Rams to six points.

Marcus Yarns produced Parkside’s only points with a 65-yard interception return with 2:36 remaining in the first half.

With six minutes remaining in the game, a 16-yard punt return by Yarns placed the Rams on North Caroline’s 25-yard line. But NC’s defense held. Running back Jabronte Mills was dropped for a 3-yard loss by a pack of Bulldogs. A pass from quarterback Makai Smiley to Malachi Mazzetti was broken up by defenders Doyle and Jason Brown. Ty Farmer then sacked Smiley for another 3-yard loss. On fourth-and-16, Parkside attempted some trickery with a halfback-pass play, but the Bulldogs knocked the ball away from Mills on fourth-down for a 15-yard loss.

North Caroline’s offense then ate up three minutes with a drive that ended with an interception on fourth-and-6 by Parkside’s Malcom Mapp in the end zone with 1:49 remaining.

The Bulldogs’ defense then limited the Rams to six yards on four plays. Pressure by Kendron Wayman and Farmer caused Smiley to throw the ball away on first down. NC linebacker Trenton Hillard ended the possession with an open-field tackle of Mills. With Parkside out of timeouts, North Caroline quarterback Wyatt LaClair took a knee three times to end the game.

“The Parkside kids kicked our rears up and down the field on both sides of the ball for about three quarters,” Bulldogs head coach James McCormick said. “Our kids held on. We played unbelievable defense. I don’t know how many yards they had, but I would bet it probably wasn’t 100. Our kids played lights-out defense.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Parkside’s Rashir Evans made a leaping catch on a pass by Smiley on a third-and-5 for a 30-yard gain to North Caroline’s 25. Mills ran off right tackle to the 11. The Bulldogs’ defense then held Parkside to six yards on three plays, setting up a 21-yard field-goal attempt by Seth Carter. But Stumph sprinted off the right end and dove in front of the kick to keep the Bulldogs in front, 7-6.

“It was huge, it was huge,” McCormick said. “We knew they didn’t have a great field-goal kicker but they were in range to kick it. We made a call we were going to block left and then we made a switch at the very last second because we knew they were on the right hash and would have to pull it a little bit, so we were going to block right. The kid came off the edge and got it, block right, and that was I think the difference right there.”

North Caroline needed only 27 yards to score its only touchdown. After the Bulldogs’ defense pinned the Rams deep in their own territory, a 20-yard punt return by Jason Brown put NC at the 27. Starting with 2:16 left in the third quarter, a pair of runs by Hunter Healey pushed the Bulldogs to the 14. On a third-and-3, Dennis went off right tackle for four yards and a first down at the 3. But two straight false starts at the end of the quarter, dropped NC back to the 12.

Montrese Deshields then ran off right tackle for two yards to the 10, then bounced right on a run to the 7 that left two Rams defenders on the field with injuries.

“Coach always tells us to finish runs … put your foot in the ground and go,” Deshields said during an interview with WINX FM’s Mark Potter. “Our line did a better job of blocking in the second half so that opened up more holes for me to finish, so I give all the credit to my line.”

After the Rams’ defenders recovered, Dennis took a pitch right and banged his way into the end zone from seven yards out.

Parkside’s Caden Chronister blocked a punt by LaClair in the first quarter to put the Rams at midfield. But Smiles fumbled on the next play, Hillard recovering the ball.

Strong defense by both clubs limited the game’s offense.

The Bulldogs rushed the ball 50 times for 150 yards, while the Rams were held to 59 yards on 36 carries.

LaClair completed three passes on 10 attempts for 45 yards and two interceptions. Smiley was 4 of 7 for 31 yards.

On a third-and-13 at the Rams’ 42 with 2:47 left in the first half and no score in the game, LaClair attempted a pass down the middle to Brown, but Yarns stepped in front of the pass and outran tacklers down the left side of the field for Parkside’s lone score.

“I made a horrible call, put our quarterback in a bad spot and he threw a pick-6, but that one’s on me,” McCormick said. “Other than that, defense played great and we made enough plays on offense to be able to stick it in, and we kicked the extra point and they didn’t. That’s the difference.”

North Caroline visits Wicomico County Stadium to take on the Indians in Week 2. The Indians handled Queen Anne’s, 35-13, in their opener.

“We’re going to have a game plan for them starting Monday, have good teamwork through the week, and prepare for them on Friday,” Deshields said.

“We knew they (the Indians) were going to be back sooner or later, a little bit sooner than later unfortunately,” McCormick said of Wicomico. “We’re going to play Wi-Hi, we’re going to line up, and we’re going to see if we can do something.”

Parkside hosts Delmar on Saturday.

Follow me on Twitter @csknauss / email me at cknauss@stardem.com

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