ERWIN — Triton survived the first round of the three-week Eastern Carolina 3A Conference championship battle by simply surviving against Cleveland. The Hawks, defending league champions, held on for a 43-40 victory in a battle of unbeaten teams after the Rams’ wild near-comeback from a 19-point deficit in the game’s final six minutes.
-- Triton survived the first round of the three-week Eastern Carolina 3A Conference championship battle by simply surviving against Cleveland. The Hawks, defending league champions, held on for a 43-40 victory in a battle of unbeaten teams after the Rams’ wild near-comeback from a 19-point deficit in the game’s final six minutes.
The Hawks (8-0 overall, 4-0 conference) turned three third-quarter Cleveland turnovers into 19 quick points to pull ahead 33-14 after a 14-all halftime tie.
“We took advantage of some turnovers we created, but the kids on both sides battled and battled and battled,” said Triton coach Ashley Ennis. “But that comeback is typical of a Coach Morris team. Their kids played with all heart, our kids played with all heart.”
Down 36-14 with 6:38 to play, Cleveland sophomore quarterback Aaron Farmer got the Rams right back in things with back-to-back one-play long TD passes. The first a 61-yarder to Donqua Williams, then a 62-yarder to Alex Raines that followed the onside kick recovery of Brandon Hughes.
Cleveland (8-1, 4-1) then held on Triton’s next drive, which led to a twisting, diving 37-yard TD catch by Andrew Daughtry in the corner of the end zone to cut the lead to 36-34 with 3:21 to play.
Farmer finished the night 13-of-20 for 354 yards and six touchdowns.
Triton converted twice on third down on its next drive, however. Then, Dedrick Stacker, the Hawks’ leading rusher this season, scored relatively easy on a 17-yard run with 37.8 seconds to play. Ricardo Hernandez’s extra-point put Triton up nine with 37.8 seconds to play.
Stacker finished with just 79 yards rushing on 13 carries.
“You can’t have an effort like this with just one person,” McBryde said. “You have to have everybody giving it their all. Both sides did it tonight.”
Cleveland’s Isaac Martin, the area’s leading rusher, had 111 yards.
“When you’ve got two good defensive teams going at it, one player’s not going to win anybody a game,” said Cleveland coach Marc Morris. “Isaac did great things for us and Dedrick did great things for them but so many kids on both sides made big plays. That’s what you have when two pretty good football teams play each other.”
Cleveland, out of time outs, threw deep to Raines on the second play of that drive. Triton’s Ray Moore made a diving attempt to intercept the ball but it bounced away from him and into Raines’ arms who raced away on a 69-yard TD catch that got Cleveland within 43-40. But the clock clicked to zero on the play.
The comeback was necessary after the string of third-quarter turnovers.
“You can’t have an effort like this with just one person,” McBryde said. “You have to have everybody giving it their all. Both sides did that tonight.”
Early in the third quarter, McBryde stripped a Cleveland runner of the ball and returned it 75 yards for the first TD, while a 74-yard TD run from Brandon McLean followed a Cleveland interception. The Rams fumbled the ensuing kick off, setting up a 6-yard TD run by Devonte Stewart.
“We had some turnovers that hurt us,” Morris said. “You can’t lose the turnover battle on the road against a good team like Triton. That’s not the way to beat great football teams.”
Triton then held on fourth down and drove into range for a 32-yard field goal by Ricardo Hernandez that provided three points that would be crucial later on. The kick put the Hawks up 36-14 with 6:38 to play.
“The field goal by Ricardo was huge,” Ennis said. “That kick ended up being the difference in the game.”