"That play was big, really big. It was just one play, but in a game like this one play can make all the difference," said a despondent Dudley head coach, Victor Floyd. "We had the opportunities, we just didn't take advantage of them. It was a hard fought game, two great defenses played well and they just came up with two big plays, the field goal and the safety, and that was the difference."
Southern had averaged 39 points on the season, but were held to just 83 total yards by the Dudley defense.
Demario Pressley, Dudley's remarkable defensive tackle, finished the game with three tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and five total tackles. By forcing Southern's offense to run away from him all evening, however, his impact was far greater than those statistics demonstrate. Pressley and the Dudley defensive line's ability to penetrate the pocket also derailed Southern Durham's vaunted passing attack.
"Demario's been a great player for us, and it will be really tough to replace a player like him. We return some other very talented younger players, and we will build around them," Floyd commented.
UNC commitment Martel Thatch, while limited to two tackles, displayed a greater ability to cover in the secondary than previously seen. On two plays in particular, he stayed deep on wide receiver Maurice Covington and swooped in at the last second to avert long gains. His ability to close in space was especially impressive.
There was the occasional offensive bright spot. Jamaal Edwards, who has committed to Florida State, rushed for 86 yards on 20 carries, which on this night was a stellar performance. His lateral movement was as impressive as he has demonstrated this season, but there was simply no where to go as the Southern defense swarmed into the backfield.
The story of the night, however, was the dominance of Southern's young and extremely talented defense.
"It's amazing, most of these guys are juniors or younger, and they just go after it. That was a great game with two great teams, and I'm proud that we managed to win," said Southern's head coach, Gordon Walters, a UNC alum. "That's one of the best games I have been involved in."
While some would disagree, citing the lack of offense and biting cold interspersed with periods of rain, that much talent on one field is truly remarkable.
While Dudley's trio of stars (Pressley, Edwards, Thatch) has been the most prominent and ballyhooed story of the recruiting class of 2004, Southern's stable of athletic members of the class of 2005 could be the talk of the upcoming year. Players like WR Brandon Woods, S/RB Charles Gamble, DE/LB Monterey Self, S Pierre Banks (committed to Ole' Miss) and WR Maurice Covington (committed to Virginia) will have college coaches and recruiting analysts flocking to Durham over the next year.