FOUR OAKS — When the football coaches of the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference met before the start of the season, they handed out the exact same number of votes to South Johnston and Eastern Wayne, resulting in a predicted third place finish in the conference for both teams.
It made sense, then, that when the two met Friday night at Ronald Avery Stadium that the affair would come down to the final minute.
With 31 seconds remaining, senior quarterback Austin Raynor let fly for the corner of the end zone and found Victor Burgess for the game-winning 20-yard TD pass leading the Trojans’ to the 19-12 victory.
“At first it was covered,” Austin Raynor said of the game-winning throw to Burgess who was double covered. “I was hesitating too much and I just let it go…I just let it go.”
The Trojan defense, which made two huge fourth down defensive stands in the second half, stepped up once again as Eastern Wayne’s Mitch Pike’s final pass of the night fell to the ground as time expired.
The first half turned out to be a battle of field position as each offense had to settle on acquiring yards instead of points with both teams going scoreless in their first four possessions.
With the defenses taking over, Eastern Wayne (2-3 overall, 0-1 conference) relied upon a little bit of trickery to get on the board first.
Quarterback Mitch Pike tossed the ball back to running back Dayshawn Pridgen who then threw down field to his brother for a 31-yard halfback option pass and a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans (4-1, 1-0) responded on its next drive when Austin Raynor dumped off a pass to Devin Harris and the sophomore wide out took it in from 32 yards to tie the contest with three minutes before halftime.
Raynor gave the Trojans their first lead of the game in the third quarter on a 9-yard strike to David Ennis.
Raynor finished the game with the three touchdown tosses, 258 yards passing and 98 more yards running the ball.
“He made big plays with his feet and he threw the ball better probably than he has all year against a tough man coverage defense,” South coah Shane Dular said of his quarterback.
Raynor’s counterpart, Pike, put forth a similar effort to keep his team in the game.
The sophomore threw for 255 yards and led the Warriors down the field to tie the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter when he found Micah Smith for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
The two-point attempt was stopped keeping the score tied 12-12.
The Trojans moved the ball down to the Eastern Wayne 14 yard line before bringing the field goal unit on the field. The 30-yard field goal attempt, however, was no good and the Trojan defense needed to step up to get the ball back.
South Johnston allowed just one first down before forcing the Warriors to punt from their own 41-yard line.
Marcel Whitley blocked the punt setting Raynor and the rest of the Trojan offense up at the 33-yard line with 1:04 left for the eventual game-winning drive.
“This was a game of heart for sure,” Dular said. “Both sides kept fighting and making plays and competing until the very end.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my team and the way they played tonight.”
Devin Harris finished the game for the Trojans with seven receptions and 110 yards while Burgess’ game-winning catch gave him six catches for 96 yards.