By Tom Shanahan
CARY -- Green Hope's resurgent fooball team won't be packing away the equipment Monday morning. The Falcons' long downtrodden football program has a winning record and is returning to the playoffs.
Green Hope is rolling into the playoffs with a second straight victory to improve to 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the rugged Tri-Nine Conference with a 14-3 win over Panther Creek Friday night on the Catamounts' field.
"It wasn't our best game, but it doesn't really matter if we got a win, right?" said Green Hope quarterback Chris Tutweiler. "First time in a while for the playoffs and we're excited. We want to get a couple of more wins."
The game was dulled by 19 punts -- 11 by Green Hope -- but in the end the Falcons won with all three
phases of the game.
The first score was a 34-yard punt return for a touchdown by Elijah Murrane with 21 seconds left in the second quarter for a 7-3 halftime lead.
The game-clinching touchdown was a 10-yard pass from Tutweiler to Dylan Hartigan on the first play of the fourth quarter.
And the defense did the rest as Green Hope limited Panther Creek to a 33-yard field goal by sophomore Phillip Stone for a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
"These kids earned all the glory," said second-year coach Green Hope coach Kwame Dixon. "We have a saying that says games are won in January and February, and these kids worked hard in the offseason."
For Panther Creek (1-10, 1-7 Tri-Nine), the season finished with a sixth straight loss in the first year under veteran coach Sean Cockery, who won or shared three Tri-Nine titles the last five years at Middle Creek. But the Catamounts don't have to look any further than Green Hope to realize a program can be turned around.
In the first half, Green Hope enjoyed field position and benefitted from three turnovers, but the Falcons didn't score until Panther Creek was forced to punt from its end zone. Murrane fielded a bouncing ball before weaving his way through defenders.
Panther Creek turned the ball over once on a fumble and twice on turnovers in the first half but the defense held each time.
On the fumble at midfield returned 49 yards by Green Hope's Anthony Lawson, Panther Creek's Dorrel McClain made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 10-yard line. Two plays later Green Hope fumbled the ball back to Panther Creek on a recovery by Rony Nasrallah.
Lawson would later save a touchdown when he Tre David on an 85-yard kickoff return at the 10-yard line. A missed field goal ended the possession.