Bryan Hanks: It was 'back to the future' for Rowe, Patriots Friday night
It was almost impossible to wipe the smile off Bill Rowe’s face as he watched the final moments of the Arendell Parrott Academy football game Friday night.
Rowe – the legend who won 170 games in 29 seasons as the APA head football coach — was among the hundreds of fans who watched the Patriots defeat Bear Grass Charter, 25-8, in the first 11-man football game for the program since Nov. 3, 1989 — a span of 10,528 days.
Rowe, a member of the Kinston-Lenoir County Sports Hall of Fame, laughed and admitted it looked odd to have 22 players at a time on Hodges Field.
“When I walked out here tonight, I said, ‘There are too many people out here on the field!’” Rowe said with his characteristic charm and smile. “It looked really crowded but it was good to see and I think (Parrott) did a good job.”
Friday was certainly a unique experience for the current APA coach, Matt Beaman, who had never played or coached in the 11-man game before Friday. As a player at Parrott, he was a star for Rowe in the 8-man game and then came back to APA to coach under Rowe and Bert Bright. He’s led the Patriots to four straight 8-man state football championship games and has won two of them.
“I really enjoyed it; it took a little while to get used to it, but it’s really just the same game,” Beaman said of participating in his first 11-man contest. “The biggest difference is for the quarterback; in the 8-man game, he’s got about 3 seconds to get the ball out but in 11-man, you have a little more time.”
APA senior quarterback Zach Vendemia – who played the 11-man game while at Greene County Middle School – spent the previous two weeks recovering from a leg injury sustained in the season-opener.
Although Vendemia was only able to really work on the 11-man game plan this week, he looked like a natural in the offense as he completed six of the 11 passes he attempted for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
“It wasn’t too different, because we just ran our regular plays,” Vendemia said. “At the beginning of the game, reads were a little tough because there are two extra safeties just sitting out there. But we made the best of it, made the adjustments we needed to make and we got it done tonight.”
Vendemia admits he’s heard the rumblings around the area about 8-man football – that it’s not “real” football or that the athletes aren’t as good.
“I don’t care what other people say; I know our boys and I know we get the job done, whether it’s 8-man or 11-man,” he said. “We got the job done tonight.”
Beaman said, “They hear it all the time around – that our guys don’t play ‘real’ football or whatever. We told our guys there are a lot of people that want them to fail and to get beat tonight.
“But we knew if we put on a good showing tonight, people would know real football is played here.”
Because of a dwindling number of players at the small school, Rowe said Parrott – which played 11-man football from 1971-89 – chose to go the 8-man route instead of dismantling the program altogether.
“We’d had years where we had 14 or 15 players on the teams,” Rowe said. “When you’re trying to play 11-man football, it’s really tough. It’s even tough when you have 18 or 19.”
Vendemia said he truly appreciates the history of Parrott football and he was proud to be a part of Friday’s game.
“I don’t think anyone will be able to forget about this game and I know I won’t be able to,” he said. “I’m honored to be a part of this history tonight.”
Friday’s historic game showed that indeed, Parrott Academy’s athletes are as good as any in Eastern North Carolina and that indeed, it’s real football at APA.
If you don’t believe that, ask Bear Grass Charter.