APEX — First-year football coaches Mike Castellano and Chris Martin made it look easy with undefeated starts during the opening weeks of rugged Tri-Nine Conference play.
Now that the season is winding down, only Castellano and his Mustangs are undefeated in the Tri-Nine. But the latest wins didn’t come easily. Middle Creek needed an interception in the end zone in the final 12 seconds of the game to hold off Martin and Athens Drive for a 35-30 win Friday at Middle Creek’s field.
The Mustangs (8-1, 6-0) won their fifth straight game to highlight a night that doubled as Middle Creek’s homecoming game and Hall of Fame night.
“That wasn’t pretty, but Athens is a better team than people realize,” Castellano said. “We put ourselves in bad positions with our play and some dumb penalties. That will have to be corrected on Monday.”
Middle Creek totaled 461 yards, including 21 carries for 129 yards by Devone Johnson. But the Mustangs were flagged 11 times for 111 yards and turned the ball over three times with two turnovers and a fumble.
Middle Creek, seeking its fourth Tri-Nine title in six years, can wrap up its second outright conference title in that same time span with wins against two teams in the bottom half of the Tri-Nine standings — Holly Springs and Apex — to end the regular season.
Athens Drive (4-5, 3-3), which at one point was 3-0 in Tri-Nine play, lost its third straight conference game.
Athens Drive, trailing 35-17 at the end of the third quarter, scored twice in the
fourth quarter on a 2-yard run by Dominique Lynch and a 74-yard catch-and-run pass from Jason West to Brad Bowling.
Middle Creek could have put the game away late, but the Mustangs fumbled on fourth-and-goal from the Jaguars’ 1-yard line. Athens Drive advanced to the Middle Creek 15-yard line before a flea-flicker pass from Bowling into the end zone was intercepted by Dajuan Young.
Athens Drive kept the game close in the first half when the Jaguars trailed 14-10 with less than a minute to play until halftime. However, a fumbled snap on a punt gave Middle Creek a first down at the Jaguars’ 41-yard line. Four plays later, Naylaan Lopez scored on a 4-yard run for a 21-10 halftime lead.
Middle Creek announced its inaugural Hall-of-Fame class before the game, which included Lisa Gott Kushner, volleyball/softball, 2005 graduate; Quincy Latimore, baseball, 2007; Michael Frongello, football, basketball, baseball, 2007; Marcus Kitts, basketball, baseball; Dean Manges, athletic director; Robbie Wray, softball and golf coach; and Tina Hobbs, charter member of the Stampede Club and treasurer.
Latimore plays in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Kitts plays professionally in France and wasn’t able to attend.
The school will announce a spring Hall-of-Fame dinner at a later date.