DURHAM — Durham Hillside overcame a sluggish start and a determined Northern Durham defense to win the PAC-6 4A conference title with a 24-14 victory.
A loss would have caused a three-way tie for first with Northern Durham and Southern Durham. The teams already had drawn to break a possible tie and Hillside would have been seeded No. 3 if it had not won.
“Twenty-three-and-one in three years, that’s the magic number,” Hillside coach Antonio King said. “We knew we had other people (Southern Durham) cheering against us, but a win is a win no matter how it looks.”
Trailing 7-6 at halftime and the rain falling, the Hornets recovered a Northern fumble at their 24-yard line on the Knights’ first play in the third quarter. Senior running back and North Carolina recruit Khris Francis, who was held to just 64 yards in the first half but finished with 181, put his team ahead 14-7 with an 8-yard run and a two-point conversion.
Hillside (8-2, 6-0) increased its lead by two touchdowns with a 67-yard drive that ended when quarterback Cinco Simmons found Francis for a 10-yard TD pass.
“You can’t make mistakes against a good football team,” Northern coach Gary Merrill said. “They hung in there, but we just didn’t make the big plays.”
The Knights (6-4, 4-2) didn’t give up, however. Northern drove 74 yards on eight plays to pull within 22-14 on running back Kylyn Flemming’s 2-yard plunge.
An interception by defensive back Charah Wheeler with 5:50 left in the game gave the Knights another opportunity, but Hillside’s defense held on downs.
Northern got one final chance with 2:28 left after Simmons was intercepted again, but quarterback Brandon Brown was called for intentional grounding in the end zone that resulted in a safety.
“Their defense did a great job on us in the first half,” King said. “We can’t be a third-quarter team in the playoffs.”