By J. Mike Blake
APEX Garner entered its non-conference rivalry with Middle Creek wanting to play more up-tempo. But it wasn't how fast the game was played that mattered in the end, just how quickly it turned.
Garner, the No. 1 team in the News & Observer rankings, trailed by a point and looked like it was going to lose momentum when it had a field goal blocked in the middle of the third quarter.
Yet a few minutes later, the Trojans seized momentum and effectively put away the fourth-ranked Mustangs.
By scoring 36 straight points in a 13-minute span between the fourth and third quarters, the Trojans defeated Middle Creek 46-29 Friday night.
After Garner's missed field goal, Middle Creek fumbled two plays later and Garner countered with a touchdown. Garner's defense two more stops and answered with a touchdown drive and a punt return for touchdown. When the Mustangs, now down by 12, fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, the Trojans knew the night was theirs.
Sophomore Nyheim Hines had four rushing touchdowns and a punt return for score to lead the way for the Trojans, who kept the ball on the ground for 30 of their 35 second-half plays.
Garner (4-0) struck first with a Hines 2-yard touchdown run to cap off the Trojans' first drive of the game, but Middle Creek struck back two plays later on a 61-yard David Salmon touchdown connection to Jeff Sladek to tied it at 7.
Garner added a 23-yard rushing score from Raevon Smith and nearly had another, but Middle Creek stopped a 4th-and-goal pass at the one-foot line.
Middle Creek (3-1, 1-0) went 99 yards in nine plays, ending in a 14-yard Naylaan Lopez run, to tie at 14 to provide the last score of the first half. The Mustangs used some trickery to take their first lead of the game. Senior wide receiver Quinton Ray went in motion so that when Salmon received the snap, he tipped it forward to Ray. Ray never broke stride on the 30-yard touchdown pass, giving the Mustangs a 21-14 lead with 10:04 left in the third.
Then came the game-changing series of events where the Mustangs watched the game fall apart.The Middle Creek crowd erupted when Garner couldn't get a good snap on a 23-yard field goal attempt that went straight into the backs of its offensive linemen. The Mustangs' defense had weathered a 16-play drive.
But two plays and only about 20 seconds of game clock later, Middle Creek fumbled a handoff to give Garner another chance. Hines ran in a 16-yard touchdown with 3:12 left in the third.
Middle Creek, still in the lead 21-20 thanks to a missed Garner PAT, went for a fourth down on the Garner 42-yard line but failed.Garner marched back down the field, and this time Smith scored his second touchdown of the night on a 4-yard score to give the Trojans a 26-21 lead with 11:22 in the fourth.
Middle Creek went 3-and-out, leading to Hines' 56-yard punt return. It was his third punt return for a TD this season.
The Mustangs coughed up the ensuing kickoff return, and four plays later Hines had a 5-yard touchdown run to put Garner up 39-21 with 9:21 left in the fourth.
The Trojans went from trailing to up 18 in the matter of three minutes.
Hines tacked on a 14-yard touchdown run and Middle Creek added a 9-yard touchdown pass from Salmon to Gabe Cooper to complete the scoring.
Garner starts Greater Neuse River Conference play next week at home against Clayton, while Middle Creek will have to regroup before next Friday's showdown with Lee County, one of many teams tied for first in the Tri-9 Conference.