First Posted: 1/15/2009
ROWLAND -- The comeback kids were at it again Friday night.
For the second time in as many weeks, South Robeson stared down the barrel of a second-half deficit and refused to blink, notching a 17-7 victory over Ledford in the second-round of the 2-A state playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Mustangs (11-1) needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to complete the rally, including C.C. Sealey's 47-yard TD reception with 7:54 remaining to erase a 7-3 deficit. Fullback Matt Oxendine, who led all rushers with 117 yards on 21 carries, iced the game by powering in from 15 yards out for the final score with just over four minutes left to play.
It was another harrowing experience for South Rob, as the No. 5 seeded Panthers (6-7) proved to be more than a worthy adversary.
“There ain't no quit in this football team. It's amazing,” South Robeson head coach Barry Leonard said. “That's a dag-gone good football team over there. But we've been a second-half football team all year for some reason, and tonight we were able to do it again.”
While the Mustangs' offense provided the final fireworks, their defense ignited the comeback.
Trailing 7-3 early in the fourth, South Robeson took advantage of the first turnover of the game when Ledford quarterback Zack Small fumbled the football near midfield. Defensive end Jeff Baker fell on the loose ball, and the Mustangs were in business.
The very next play, quarterback Lorenzo McRae hooked up with Sealey for the game-winning score.
“That was just a big pass there,” Leonard said. “That was our third option on the pass, and Lorenzo checked off it. The first two receivers weren't open, and C.C. ran it down. It was just a great play.”
South Rob's defense held on the Panthers' next possession, and a 27-yard punt return by Sealey to Ledford's 35-yard line helped set up the final score. After a false start, wingback Robert Tillman burst through the right side and went 40 yards for the touchdown. A holding penalty, however, negated the score.
Oxendine bailed the team out four plays later, as the senior rumbled up the gut for his only score of the night.
“We were in there at the half saying, 'This can't be our last game,'” Oxendine said. “We're not used to playing like this because we used to come out headhunters, but we'll take it.”
The Mustangs' earlier mistakes, though, were not as easily overcome.
A 30-yard field goal by Braxton Hunt in the second gave South Rob an early 3-0 lead, but a missed opportunity at the end of the half proved costly. The Mustangs drove the ball down to 3-yard line, only to have a series of miscues force them into attempting a 25-yard field goal. Hunt's kick was blocked by David Thomas, who picked the ball up but couldn't keep his balance on what would have been wide-open return.
It was a frustrating turn of events for Leonard, who saw his club limit the Panthers to just four first downs and 67 yards of total offense in the first 24 minutes.
“We felt like we should have been up 10-0 at halftime,” he said. “You know, sometimes it just doesn't work out that way.”
Ledford seized that momentum on the opening drive of the second half thanks to an eight-play, 55-yard drive. Fullback Zach Ritchie provided the finishing touch, plunging in from 2 yards out for the 7-3 lead after Renn Lackey's extra point.
The Panthers had a chance to take control of the game on their next drive but were stopped on a fourth-and-one at the Mustang 11-yard line.
According to Ledford grid boss Rick Larrick, it was a gamble that didn't pay off.
“I couldn't decide whether to kick the field goal there or not on that fourth down,” he said. We've got a real good field-goal kicker and we probably should have kicked it. That's second guessing maybe, but we didn't make the plays and they did.”
Jim Stamm can be reached at 739-4322, Ext. 118 or by e-mail at [email protected]