APEX — Middle Creek reeled off four first-half touchdowns after falling behind 12-0 in the first minutes Monday night and held on for a 38-27 victory over Smithfield-Selma in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A football playoffs.
The Mustangs (5-7) will travel to Southeast Raleigh (10-2) for a game Friday night, having reached the second round for just the second time in school history.
Smithfield-Selma finished with a 7-5 record.
Sophomore quarterback Garrett Leatham bounced back from throwing an early interception that set up Smithfield-Selma's quick second touchdown. Leatham connected with Trey Nesbit on a 27-yard pass for the Mustangs' first TD, then hit Marvin Mackey on a 13-yarder with 41.2 seconds to play in the first quarter, and the huge early deficit was a distant memory.
"There were still like 10 minutes to go in the first half when we fell behind," Middle Creek coach Sean Crocker said. "The whole game was ahead of us. We just had to keep playing. We made some plays and were able to get the lead before the end of the quarter."
Leatham continued to find holes in the Spartans' defense in the second quarter. He found junior Dexter Montague open for two TDs, covering 17 and 8 yards, respectively, and giving Middle Creek a 28-12 lead at halftime. The Middle Creek quarterback was 15-of-23 passing for 219 yards, four TDs and two interceptions in the first 24 minutes of play.
Nesbit led Middle Creek with 113 yards receiving on nine catches.
Smithfield-Selma closed to 28-19 on a 1-yard run by Justin Dixon in the third quarter but couldn't get anything else going until a comeback was a real long shot at best.
The Spartans, still down by nine with 6:05 to play, tried to convert a fourth-and-16 play near midfield, but Middle Creek came up with a sack to end the drive. Matt Frongello added a field goal to up the lead to 12 with 2:33 to play.
The two squads exchanged TDs in the closing 90 seconds. Stephen Sladek rumbled for a 16-yard Middle Creek touchdown with 1:23 to play, then Smithfield-Selma's Josh Snead ran the ensuing kickoff back 70 yards for a touchdown.
"They had a great game plan," SSS coach Anthony Barbour said of Middle Creek. "They spread us out with their offense and made our skill guys on defense, who carry the ball for us on offense, chase them around the field.
"We got tired real fast doing that."
Middle Creek ran 60 plays.
Smithfield-Selma got its quick 12-0 lead in the first 100 seconds of play. North Carolina recruit D.J. Bunn raced around end on the second play of the game for a 79-yard touchdown run.
On the second play of the Mustangs' first drive of the game, Smithfield-Selma's Junior Bryant stepped in front of a quick pass and returned it to the Middle Creek 7-yard line. Dixon, another UNC recruit, jogged in for a TD on the next play, putting SSS up 12-0 with 10:22 to play in the first quarter.
Rushes-Yards 37-159 28-60
Comp-Att-Yards 3-13-56 20-32-232
SSS 12 0 7 8 -- 27
MID 14 14 0 10 -- 38
SSS--D.J. Bunn 79 run (run failed); SSS--J. Dixon 7 run (run failed); MID--T. Nesbit 27 pass from G. Leatham (M. Frongello kick); MID--M. Mackey 13 pass from G. Leatham (M. Frongello kick); MID--D. Montague 17 pass from G. Leatham (M. Frongello kick); MID--D. Montague 8 pass from G. Leatham (M. Frongello kick); SSS--J. Dixon 2 run (H. Johnson kick); MID--M. Frongello 24 FG: MID--S. Sladek 16 run (M. Frongello kick); SSS--J. Snead 70 kickoff return (A. Rouse run).
Rushing: SSS--D.J. Bunn 6-88, J. Dixon 15-76, J. Jones 3-7, A. Rouse 4-(-5), D. Parker 4-3, J. Snead 5-(-6); MID--S. Sladek 18-84, D. Render 2-1, J. Nesbit 5-(-2), G. Leatham 3-(-23).
Passing: SSS--A. Rouse 3-11-56-1; MID--G. Leatham 20-32-232-2.
Receiving: SSS--A. Greene 2-55, J. Dixon 1-1; MID--T. Nesbit 9-113, D. Gaines 2-39, M. Mackey 3-22, S. Sladek 2-18, D. Montague 3-28.