FAIRMONT — Fairmont quarterback Julius Caulder didn’t see his where his final pass attempt ended up until after he picked his head up off the turf on his home field on Friday night.
The senior quarterback and two-time Robeson County Heisman was under pressure all night and his last throw against Red Springs was no different. With a tie ballgame and one un-timed down from the Red Devils’ 30-yard line, Caulder moved up in the pocket, was hit as he threw and the floating pass was grabbed by sophomore receiver Jordan Waters, who took it the final 10 yards for the game-winning score.
“Derrick (Arnette) was wide open so the pass was intended for him and I didn’t even see Jordan,” Caulder said. “When it was up in the air I just hoped it wouldn’t get intercepted, but then I got on mys knees I looked up and saw the ref giving the touchdown signal.”
The 38-32 win keeps Fairmont in a tie for first place in the Three Rivers Conference with South Columbus after it defeated St. Pauls in overtime.
“This win was very important for us so we can stay on top because one of our goals is to have home playoff games so we can play here on Thanksgiving (weekend),” Caulder said.
Waters saw the play as a chance for him to make the big play that he had wanted to come up with the whole game with an offense full of playmakers at receiver.
“I was running across the field and saw it was tipped so when I caught it I turned upfield and dove to the end zone and that was it,” he said. “I hadn’t made a big play all game so that was the one we needed.”
Fairmont (5-3, 4-0 TRC) got the ball to set up the game-winner after its defense forced a punt that gave the offense the ball at the Red Springs’ (4-4, 1-3 TRC) 45 with five seconds left. Caulder’s Hail Mary throw on the next play sailed long but he was hit in the head before the throw resulting in a penalty to set up the shorter field. On the Golden Tornadoes’ previous offensive drive, it stalled inside the red zone with Caulder throwing three straight incompletions, including a bobble by Jarique Moore in the endzone on fourth-and-eight.
“It was just a resilient game,” Fairmont coach Mark Heil said. “We made a play when we had to. Great players make great plays at great times and that’s what happened.”
The resiliency wasn’t just on the Fairmont side. Red Springs battled back from two 16-point deficits to tie the game twice, but penalties came at costly times for the Red Devils.
“Physically we don’t have any problems, there’s not anybody in the conference that we cannot play with,” Red Springs coach Ron Cook said. “When you look at every game we’ve played in, it comes down to the mistakes we made.”
After Fairmont went up 16-0 early in the second quarter, the Red Devils scored on a Toddrick Lockhart six-yard run just before halftime and knotted the score at 16 on two-yard run from Lee McLean on the first offensive series of the second half.
Halijah McLean scored on his first two runs of the second half to give the Golden Tornadoes the lead right back with a score on the following drive and then on a 43-yarder to start the fourth quarter and go up 32-16. Red Springs made quick work to tie up the game in five minutes with a touchdown run from Jerome Bass, an onside kick recovery and then a Marquis Ray score on the following drive.
Penalties on the Red Devils’ final drive set up the prime field position for Fairmont’s game-winning score with two unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play called on Red Springs that moved the offense back inside its own 10-yard line to set up a third-and-32 that they couldn’t convert on. Red Springs was penalized 15 times in the game.
“We had two penalties for cursing that stopped the whole drive. I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to score,” Cook said. “We are our own worst enemy right now.”
Caulder finished going 9-for-23 passing for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Moore had 117 receiving yards and one score while Waters had the game-winning touchdown and 79 yards through the air. Red Springs’ Eric Graham rushed 16 times for 107 yards.
Fairmont plays at home against East Columbus next week before hitting the true test of its schedule to fight for the conference crown at St. Pauls in two weeks and at South Columbus to close out the regular season. Red Springs travel to South Columbus next Friday.
“We got a zero in the loss column in conference so it’s important,” Heil said.
Contact Jonathan Bym on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.