First Posted: 10/22/2010
PEMBROKE As Purnell Swett’s season began to unravel at the seams, head coach Mark Heil threw his hands in the air in disgust.
A personal foul penalty on Pinecrest’s first play of its final drive with 1:09 remaining sent the Rams’ coach into a sideline tizzy.
But like so many times throughout Friday night’s error-filled contest with the Patriots, Swett’s defense regrouped and answered in a big way.
Jamarcus Harrington’s sprawling interception with 38 seconds to play sealed a 16-13 win, the Rams’ first Southeastern Conference victory in three tries and an important notch in Swett’s postseason hopes.
“I just went up and got it,” Harrington said. “I kept believing in our offense even though they made mistakes. I knew we’d get another chance.”
The Rams (6-3, 1-2) overcame a disastrous second half that included three turnovers in six plays in the third quarter to win on Senior Night. Swett turned the Patriots over on eight occasions three times in the final 7:14 to offset a horrifying night offensively.
“We were on the field so much that we got tired,” Heil said. “We are so inconsistent on offense right now. With six minutes left, I wasn’t so sure we would win the ballgame.”
Sporting a winless conference record and having Robeson County’s touchdown leader sidelined with an ankle injury, the Rams still managed to get things going on offense in the first half, holding the ball nearly 18 minutes to lead 16-0.
Juan Jones filled in for Travon Clark with 216 yards and two touchdowns on a game-high 35 carries. His three lost fumbles two in the second half frustrated Heil.
“Obviously, Juan did the best he could with the numbers he had,” Heil said. “He ran well but forgot to hold onto the ball. We really missed Travon tonight. We can’t have that many turnovers and expect to win a lot of games.”
Quarterback Chase Armstrong started the game with a 9-for-9 tally and led his team to 12 first downs in the opening 24 minutes, but a pair of costly interceptions led to Patriot points after intermission.
Trailing 16-0, Pinecrest scored the game’s final 13 points but couldn’t muster any offense on its final possession. John Brown’s 32-yard interception return with 6:57 left in the game gave the Patriots a first down on Swett’s 18-yard line trailing 16-10.
The drive stalled three plays later after a personal foul penalty and two runs for no gain, setting up Dillon Maples’ second field goal of the contest. Maples’ 36-yarder at the 5:12 mark pulled Pinecrest within three but the Patriots would get no closer as eight turnovers proved too much to overcome.
Both teams huddled in prayer at midfield after the game, putting last season’s post-game mayhem in Southern Pines behind them.
Heil was relieved to end his team’s two-game SEC slide heading into next week’s clash at Hoke.
“We had to win tonight to keep pace in this conference,” Heil said. “Now our sights are set on Hoke and Lumberton. I think we’ll have to win one of those just to make the playoffs.”