RALEIGH — The disappointment on the face of Wallace-Rose Hill football coach Kevin Motsinger was evident even though most of it was covered by an orange and black face covering.
But it wasn’t the result — a 55-34 loss to Shelby in the NCHSAA 2A state title game Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium — that had him so down.
Rather, it was the fact that four of his players, including two senior starters, were unable to make the trip to Raleigh and play in the biggest game of their careers because of an untimely COVID outbreak.
Wide receiver James Smith, tackle/nose guard Tylique Hall, reserve linebacker Irvin Brown and reserve defensive lineman Deashawn Taylor all tested positive on Thursday, providing the Bulldogs with a major distraction as they prepared for their first state final since 2017.
“It absolutely breaks my heart because they didn’t get the opportunity to make this trip, they didn’t get the opportunity to walk out of that tunnel on NC State’s field,” Motsinger said, specifically mentioning seniors Smith and Hall.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that and the other boys, they’re underclassmen, but you don’t know if you’ll ever get back. I know the people in our community, and I’m sure Shelby is the same way, you think you’re going to come all the time. But that ain’t reality. That’s the most difficult part. I knew we had kids that weren’t going (to play). That’s why at the beginning as we came out we carried their jerseys.”
Motsinger said he has called each of the affected players every day since learning they wouldn’t be able to participate, including once on the pregame bus ride up Interstate 40 from Duplin County.
“They’re very depressed, very upset and angry,” Motsinger said. “That’s probably the hardest part.”
As difficult as the situation was for Motsinger and his players, it didn’t factor much into the actual game.
The Bulldogs (13-3) stayed close with Shelby (15-1) through the first two quarters thanks to the running of star senior Kanye Roberts. They trailed by just one score, 34-27, at halftime. But they were unable to stop the Golden Lions’ passing attack while allowing three unanswered touchdowns to start the second half.
Roberts finished the game with 253 rushing yards and five touchdowns, increasing his season total to 58 — the second most in NCHSAA history.
Despite the pregame drama, Motsinger and his staff tried as best they could to keep things as normal as possible in the days and hours leading up to Saturday’s game.
But the veteran coach admitted that it wasn’t easy.
“I told the kids to focus on football, that this was big boys stuff,” Motsinger said. “They think they’re grown men a lot of times, but they’re still my kids. (I told them) to let daddy handle it and let our principal and us deal with it. It’s been a very difficult, hard week.”