(pictured above: Caden Davis)
Losing the final game of the regular season was hardly a bad omen for the Kernersville Raiders Cadets team. Once the playoffs started, the Raiders turned their game up a notch and the end result is a 5-0 postseason record entering the American Youth Football Division I National Tournament, which begins on Saturday in Orlando, Fla.
“The losses we had proved to be very beneficial,” said Coach Antonio Davis. “Losing causes you to look at what you’re doing and what you need to do to improve. We ended up tweaking a few things and it made us that much better.”
Kernersville (11-2) started its extended playoff run by beating the previously undefeated South Fork Panthers in the title game of the Piedmont Youth Football and Cheer League. A week later, the Raiders cruised to a 25-0 win over the Derita Redskins in the AYF state championship game. In the AYF Atlantic Regional final, Kernersville dominated the Prince George County Chargers (Va.) 32-7 to earn their berth to the national tournament.
“Everybody is excited about going to Florida for the nationals,” said Davis. “One of the keys to our season is that the players’ parents allowed us to push these kids hard. With each win they’ve had (in postseason play), they can see for themselves the value of all the hard work we started doing back in August. When you work hard, good things do happen. They’re finding out that it pays off.”
The Raiders have a strong core of players who have played together for three years, but they also have eight newcomers who had no prior playing experience at the start of this season. The way Kernersville has melded as a collective unit, Davis explained, is the other factor that’s most responsible for the success the Raiders have enjoyed.
“Our coaching staff has been able to take the kids we were given and make it work,” he said. “We’re not the biggest, not the fastest, and we’re not the strongest. What we’ve shown is that we’re the best team. Since the playoffs started, everybody has raised their level of play and that’s what’s helped us to get to where we are now.”
Kernersville has a solid offensive attack spearheaded by running backs Isaac Sutton, Jamison Warren and Raneiria Dillworth, along with quarterback Caden Davis and wide receiver Arrington Jones.
Defensively, the Raiders have held opponents to a combined total of 13 points in their last three postseason games. Brandon Johnson, Karson Rowley, Isaac Cain, Javon Siddle, Dillworth and Jones are the key performers.