FAYETTEVILLE — Two fourth-quarter touchdowns were the difference in a physical contest between Middle Creek and host Fayetteville Jack Britt. It was just a matter of which team would wear down the other first.
Visiting Middle Creek finally relented against Britt's dogged rushing attack, falling 28-14 in the third round of the 4AA NCHSAA football playoffs.
The Mustangs end their year 10-4 overall.
Britt and Middle Creek entered the fourth quarter tied at 14 apiece, but the Buccaneers called one pass play in the final period and grinded it out. In total, Britt ran 60 times for 333 yards.
"I don't know if they were being more physical than us. Their backs are so used to hitting the hole hard that you have to be there," Middle Creek coach Sean Crocker said. "We wore down a little bit... They keep pounding it at you, and we know that's how they play here in Fayetteville."
Each side's no-huddle offense ran exclusively out of shotgun formation, but while Britt kept most of its plays on the ground, Middle Creek tested the Bucs through the air.
Britt got on the board first as Mark McRae ran in a quarterback draw from just four yards out to go up 7-0 with 7.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
Middle Creek's Quinton Ray fumbled the ensuing kickoff as he fought for extra yardage. That set up a six-play, 36-yard drive capped off by a 5-run Lindon Watkins, and Jack Britt went up 14-0.
After forcing a fumble, Middle Creek did something no Jack Britt opponent had done in four previous games -- score.
And not only that -- the Mustangs score a touchdown. The Bucs had not allowed a touchdown in six previous games, and zero points in its last four.
But quarterback David Salmon ran in a 4-yard draw to score with 7:25 left in the first half to cut the lead to 14-7.
Britt led 14-7 at halftime.
Middle Creek came out in the second half and took it straight to the Bucs.
A six-play, 73-yard drive to open the second half ended with a 21-yard touchdown toss from Salmon to Jon Moore.
The Mustangs had tied it, and on the next Britt possession, senior Brian Broadney came up with his second interception of the game and fourth in the last two weeks.
But Middle Creek's Salmon threw a pick of his own. The two sides combined for eight turnovers, with each side throwing two picks and losing two fumbles.
The Bucs had momentum on their side until a 21-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Broadney.
The score stayed tied until the fourth.
Britt threw an incompletion into the end zone on fourth down from the Middle Creek 25-yard line, but a Mustangs defender was called for pass interference. The Bucs scored on the next play, a 12-yard run.
"That proved to be real costly," said Crocker. "We kind of stopped ourselves."
Middle Creek went 3-and-out on its next drive. Britt answered with another long, grinding drive to provide the game's final score.
"They tried to catch us on our heels and falling back. We had to stay strong," Mustangs senior defensive tackle Josh Banks said. "But we had a whole bunch of our players cramp up (in the fourth) so that started to hurt us. (Britt) took advantage of the opportunities they had, I'll give it to them on that."
Salmon completed 16-of-37 passes for 192 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Six of his completions were caught by Kevin Jones, who totaled 69 yards.
Middle Creek running back Naylaan Lopez had 15 carries for 59 yards and a score.
The Mustangs seniors were part of two Tri-Nine Conference championships and two trips to the third round.
"It seems like stuff was just going their way tonight," said Banks, a Wake Forest recruit. "It doesn't take away from the experience we've had on this team."