Prep Football Playoffs: West Montgomery 34, North Rowan 28
By Ryan Bisesi
SPENCER - North Rowan stayed in front of West Montgomery for all but five seconds of Friday's first-round playoff tilt.
Unfortunately, they were the most important five seconds of the night.
West quarterback Caleb Drake hit Brad Absher on a 25-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining, as the Warriors ended North's season for the third straight year in a 34-28 decision Friday night at Eagle Stadium.
"This one hurts," said North's Kasaun Coney said. "I was expecting more out of our team, but I'm proud of us."
West, which scored at the end of regulation two weeks ago against North to extend the game to overtime, was at it again with some late-game heroics. The game slipped through the Cavaliers' hands as they fumbled it five times.
When the Cavs look back at this one, they'll see that four lost fumbles ended their season, two of which were returned for touchdowns. It was almost criminal for a team that doubled its win total from last year to have it end this way.
"You can't turn the ball over against a good team," North coach Joe Nixon said. "We had a couple big penalties on some long runs that hurt us. That's just how the game goes."
Drake, who had been battling a migraine, danced around the West defense all night enough to keep plays alive - and make a few himself. He ran for 89 yards and threw for 87, After coming out late in the game due to the migraine, Drake returned on the final drive and drove West to the North 25. Drake stayed alive long enough to find Absher, who brushed off a defender and dove along the pylon and over the goal line to an exasperated home crowd.
"That quarterback's really special and we knew that," Nixon said. "He made a great play there."
Jareke Chambers' school-record 272 rushing yards were an afterthought in the stomach-turning defeat. The sophomore went over 1,000 yards with the performance.
The Cavs jumped out to a 14-0 lead and were 6 yards away from a three-score advantage. Chambers was stripped of the ball and West's Rykeem Robinson benefited, carrying it 97 yards to give West its first points. Four plays later, West's Matt Harkins jumped on a loose handoff and ran 22 yards and the Warriors cut it to 14-13.
"We're leading the state in turnovers ourselves," West coach Nick Eddins joked. "It was about time the breaks started going our way. I hate it for their kids"
Coney had an interception early in the second half, snagging a deep fourth-down pass near the goal line. Chambers took the next play 95 yards down the sideline and Xavier Robinson scored from 3 yards out to give the Cavs their 28-19 edge.
"I thought we turned it around when that happened," Coney said.
North quarterback Alexis Archie completed just three passes, one of which went to Michael Connor on a 2-yard touchdown toss for the game's first points.
North entered the fourth quarter with a 28-19 lead. A long run by Chambers was wiped out by a hold and forced the Cavs into a third-and-long. After fumble wound up in the wrong hands and West recovered at the North 10. Suave Pegues ran it down to the 1 then punched it in to cut it to 28-26 with 8:49 left. North got the defensive stand it was looking for when defensive lineman Oshon West ripped the ball away from Harkins and gave the Cavs the ball with 4:38 left.
A 4-yard gain and a 2-yard loss from Xavier Robinson and an incomplete pass from Archie later, North had to punt. West got the ball at its own 43 with Rykeem Robinson at quarterback, guiding the Warriors into North territory. Drake returned with 1:10 left.
"He's the leader of our team," Eddins said. "He came up to me and said 'Coach, I can go' and led us down to a touchdown and saved our season."
After the final touchdown, North got the ball at its own 20 and Archie was sacked to end the game.
The Cavs' first winning season since 2006 was a heartbeat away from a trip to Mt. Airy, where West will play next week.
"These seniors did a great job for us," Nixon said. "They got this thing headed back in the right direction. I'm proud of these kids."