Prep Football: Statesville 22, Carson 16
By David Shaw
CHINA GROVE — Carson had a chance to turn its season around Friday night — but it hit an oil slick with the checkered flag in sight.
Visiting Statesville scored on a 50-yard pass play with 6.9 seconds remaining, sending the Cougars to a deflating 22-16 NPC loss.
“We could taste it,” senior linebacker T.J. Smith said after Carson (2-4, 1-1) coughed up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. “It just slowly got away from us. It was right there, but we just couldn’t grab it.”
Instead Statesville (3-3-1, 2-1), which never led until the waning seconds, staged a ferocious comeback and fled the scene with a dramatic win.
“To come back like that — with two touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter — showed tons of heart,” winning coach Randall Gussler said. “It’s a huge win in the league and sets us up for a showdown with West Iredell next week.”
It marked the second straight year Statesville had pulled out a last-minute victory against the Cougars. “Yeah, I remember,” said Smith. “All I know is they were both long passes.”
Carson coach Mark Woody hung out the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and was visibly shaken as he made a hasty post-game exit. Assistant Ben Hampton commented in his stead.
“It’s a tough loss, but it’s not season-ending by any means,” he said. “Even though it feels a little devastating right now, we saw a lot of positives out there on offense and defense.”
The score was tied 16-16 when Statesville began its game-winning drive from its own 43-yard line with 48 seconds to play. Following a pair of short completions and a procedure penalty, quarterback Tristan Mumford was facing second-and-17 from midfield.
“It was a ballgame, you know?” he stated after passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns. “I told everyone in the huddle, ‘Let’s keep our heads and play as a team. Let’s get this done.’ But really, I was just hoping for the best.”
As the clocked dwindled, Statesville sent five receivers out for passes. Two of them took direct paths to Carson’s safeties, steering the defenders away from the center of the field. Then Greyhounds’ junior Marquis Willis quietly found some open space in the secondary and turned to face Mumford.
“All game we were making our fits on defense,” said Carson DE Jeremiah Smith. “We were reading and reacting and doing a lot of things right.”
Not this time. With only a linebacker to beat, Willis snagged a short pass and outran a crowd of would-be tacklers to the end zone, setting off a jubilant celebration on the Statesville sideline.
“We were misaligned on defense,” said T.J. Smith. “They threw it to a person who should have been covered — but wasn’t.”
Carson took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, just seconds after Connor Bridges recovered a fumble on the Statesville 44. On first down, sophomore QB Austin McNeill connected with Dontae Gilbert for his sixth touchdown pass of the season. Statesville answered but muffed an extra point before Carson’s B.J. Collins booted a 24-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
The Cougars’ lead ballooned to 16-6 early in the fourth period when Travis Abbitt (22 attempts/99 yards) capped a 17-play drive with a 1-yard TD plunge. “We had the momentum,” said Jeremiah Smith. “We were rolling, playing emotional. But we slipped up and they got one on us.”
Statesville closed the game by scoring on its final three drives — in the last nine minutes — and winning in stunning fashion. It only somewhat tarnished all the forward steps the Cougars took the first three quarters.
“We played better this week,” Hampton said. “We accomplished some goals, but obviously not the main one. But still, it was good to see us playing team ball and making strides in the right direction.”
NOTES: Carson lost kickoff man Devon Peacock to what was apparently a severe left knee injury in the second quarter. He was carted off the field and transported to Rowan Regional Medical Center. … Logan Ritchie was named homecoming queen during halftime. … Television and movie actor Rick Ravenello made a guest appearance.