Somebody had to lose between two unbeaten football teams. And it took a field goal with 4 seconds to play to decide the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A state title Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Traditional state power Reidsville (16-0) squeaked past Elizabeth City’s Northeastern High (14-1) to pull out a 31-28 victory on senior kicker Zach Baber’s 24-yard field goal.
It was Reidsville’s 17th state title, although they like to also include three regional titles before the advent of state championship games.
“We’ve got 20 rings,” said senior offensive lineman Quad Lawson.
The Rams overcame a 14-0 first-quarter deficit, trailed 21-7 at halftime and fell behind 28-21 with 4:14 left in the game, but no deficit proved too large nor was time too short.
Reidsville tied the game 28-28 when sophomore quarterback Kyle Pinnix hit junior wide receiver Demontez Canada with 37-yard scoring pass. Canada caught the well-placed ball with a man-to-man coverage clinging to him as he crossed into the end zone with 3:06 to play.
Then, senior running back Travion Canada took the baton from his younger brother. He decided the game with arguably the two biggest plays of the day with one on each side of the ball within 22 seconds of each other.
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Northeastern faced a 3-and-23 from its 13-yard line when Canada blitzed untouched from the right side. He sacked quarterback Aaron Harris at the 3-yard line with 1:11 to play.
After the Eagles’ punt from their end zone, Reidsville took over at Northeastern’s 39. On third-and-4 Canada broke off a 26-yard run to the 7 with 49 seconds remaining. Two plays later Baber connected on his field goal.
On the sack, Canada said he lined up with no one on him and had an untouched path to Harris’ blindside.
“I just went at him like I was on fire,” Canada said. “His back was to me, so I really tried to lay the boom on him. I was hoping for a fumble, but the sack was good enough.”
On the run, it was his 18th carry and longest of the day as he finished with 124 yards rushing.
“I hesitated a little bit and then the hole opened up,” he said.
Canada described his key plays after the game while seated at a table with veteran head coach Jimmy Teague and two other seniors, Lawson and linebacker Trell Rankin.
“All year long I’ve said we’re only as good as our seniors we’ve got three of the best ones we’ve ever had right here,” said veteran of 31 seasons as a head coach in North Carolina, 24 of them at Reidsville. “When it was 21-7, the guys came in the locker said it (losing) wasn’t going to happen. They came back out and didn’t let it happen. Everything we did this year is credit to three senior and the rest of the seniors we have.”
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Rams, whose senior-laden team a year ago lost their bid for a state title in the final to Wallace-Rose Hill in overtime.
Reidsville finished with another 100-yard rusher as junior Lionel Long sparked the offensive from the 14-0 deficit some counter runs. He finished with 14 carries for 103 yards.
Pinnix was only 2-of-11 passing in the first half, but he finished the game 9-of-25 for 116 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. In addition to the strike to Demontez Canada, he hit sophomore Breon Pass (3 catches, 32 yards) for two TDs of 19 and 5 yards and one to senior Logan Graves for 32 yards.
Jiheem Hooper led the Rams defensively with 12 tackles and one interception.
Eagles’ coach Antonio Moore said his team’s success surprised him from the beginning of the year to the team departing Elizabeth City on Friday night to game day.
“We had the best sendoff ever,” Moore said. “I think I cried for 30 minutes, but I didn’t let anybody see it. And our fans showed up at the game today. We like doing things for other people and we wanted to win a title for our city. It just didn’t work out, but we’ll get another opportunity.”
Northeastern took the momentum on its first possession when Moore called for a fake punt on the fifth play of the game. The ball was snapped to the up-man, Harris. He sprinted through the hole up the middle 55 yards for a touchdown.
On the Eagles’ next possession, they marched 11 plays covering 80 yards for 14-0 lead late in the first period. Senior Traveon Freshwater, a running back and linebacker committed to East Carolina, converted first-down runs on gains of 5, 7 and 7 yards to keep the chains moving. Freshwater also had nine tackles and a sack.
Harris finished the day with 16 carries for 175 yards and two touchdowns and Freshwater 17 rushes for 64 yards and one score. Harris also threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to sophomore fullback Quasi Thomas.
“These kids played their hearts out,” Moore said. “I’m still excited for them they got a chance to get here and compete for a state championship. They need to keep their heads up.”