APEX — Leesville Roads defense surrendered a season-high 30 points Friday night, but the Pride also forced five turnovers and got two fourth-down stops late in the fourth quarter to escape Middle Creek 37-30 in their second-round NCHSAA 4AA playoff showdown.
Theyve got a tremendous offense, Leesville coach Chad Smothers said. It was going to be whose defense could stop the other enough. Fortunately, we got them off the field enough and scored more points, and were going to get out of here before they ask for it back.
Two of the Triangles top teams traded offensive blows throughout the night. Middle Creek had 429 yards of total offense, while Leesville finished with 452.
But the Pride is moving on to face Garner next weekend thanks to the Herculean efforts of its defense. Braxton Berrios intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble, while sophomore JV call-up Elisiah Richardson had two interceptions. Defensive end Michael Richardson had two sacks, including one on the games final play, as Middle Creek quarterback David Salmon scrambled to buy time for a Hail Mary to the end zone.
The Pride ground out 343 rushing yards on a whopping 70 attempts. Kamir Bowen led the charge with 155 yards and two touchdowns, while Berrios went for 91 yards and two scores.
I cant say enough about their effort, Smothers said. Thats a total buy-in when kids play that hard.
While the Prides defense rose to the challenge late, their night started off anything but sound. Middle Creek needed just three plays and 31 seconds to cover 69 yards to the end zone. Naylan Lopez (120 yards, two TDs) finished off the drive with an 11-yard TD run for an early 7-0 Mustangs lead.
But then Leesville (12-0) scored on three straight possessions and jumped out to a 21-10 lead. The Mustangs (11-2) cut the deficit to 21-16 thanks to Salmons 5-yard TD pass to Davonne Johnson (100 rushing yards, 73 receiving yards, 2 TDs).
Salmon and Johnson hooked up again midway through the third quarter, this time on a 28-yard catch-and-run, to grab the lead back 23-21.
Up 30-29, Middle Creek looked as if it was marching toward the end zone again, but Berrios stepped in front of a screen pass, and the Pride used that turnover to regain the lead. Kamir scored on a 6-yard run, and Evan Parker hit Devin Williamson for a two-point conversion and a 37-30 lead with 8:22 to play. The scoring drive featured a gutsy conversion on fourth and 15.
DeRahjai Robinson hauled in a pass that covered 15 yards and a couple extra inches to keep the drive alive, and Kamir scored on the next play.
The Mustangs once again were poised to tie the game, but Williamson intercepted a Salmon pass at the goal line on fourth down.