GARNER — Garners march to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA football championship was intercepted by an opportunistic, never-say-die Fayetteville Britt defense on the final down Friday.
The Trojans had four possessions in the fourth quarter and each ended with an interception, the last in the end zone as the final second clicked off the clock and resulted in a 14-8 loss.
It hurts, Smith told his last Garner team as it gathered for the last time on the Trojan Stadium turf. And youll remember this hurt. Thats the way life is. You hurt sometimes. Youve accomplished so much. You have so many reasons to be proud. But right now you hurt.
Around him players who seemed so fearless moments before were inconsolable. Players cried unashamedly. Many sobbed. Some shook with grief. Others were on their knees, their heads on the ground. The pain was universal.
You need to concentrate on the good, Smith continued. There are going to be a lot of hurts in your life, but you have to pick yourself up and go on, keep working. I am as proud of this team as any Ive ever coached. Youve worked hard from Day One. You never quit.
You need to keep working hard and become successful in life. Youll always remember the hurts, but youve got to remember the good things, too.
Senior quarterback Vince Jefferies, who led the Trojans to 14 consecutive victories and was 29-1 as a starter, had thrown only seven interceptions all season, but had five picked off by the Buccaneers, who will play Matthews Butler for the state title Saturday.
We knew from last year what an outstanding run defense Britt has, Smith said, referring to a 34-27 win against Britt in last years state semifinal. We had a really tough time running on them last year. The game went about like I thought it would. We just had too many turnovers to win it.
Garner led 8-0 entering the fourth quarter thanks to a 36-yard reception by Armani Lanier and a 15-yard completion to Tim Thorb on a 50-yard scoring drive that was capped by Tyler Hinsons 1-yard touchdown.
The Trojans added a safety in the third period after a Kenneth Perkinson punt pinned Britt at its own 7. Carrington Austin and Marcien Laurent dumped Britt quarterback Mark McRae in the end zone.
Britt played a defense similar to the one Garner used two weeks ago against Wakefields Connor Mitch. Heavy pass pressure was applied in the middle, deep routes were covered with multiple defenders and 5-yard routes were conceded to quick accurate throws.
Garner completed 21 passes for 228 yards, including 11 gains of 6 or fewer yards.
Senior Raevon Smith rushed 15 times for 93 yards, including a 40-yard burst. He ran hard, but there were too many defenders.
Youve got to give credit to Britt, Smith said. They played great defense.
Garner seemed almost in control for three quarters, though.
The Trojans defense was outstanding and Garner had superior field position. Its first possession in the fourth quarter, for example, started at the Britt 36. The Trojans picked up a first down to the 24, but a 1-yard loss was followed by a dropped pass and on third down Britt intercepted and returned the ball 58 yards to the Garner 32.
The Bucs scored on the next play.
That just seemed to turn all of the momentum, Smith said.
Garner drove to midfield, but another interception led to Britts go-ahead touchdown.
Garner drove to midfield again, but another interception allowed Britt to run the clock down inside a minute.
Then the Trojans proved their heart.
With 51.6 seconds left and 80 yards to travel, Garner patiently worked its way downfield. First, a 13-yard pass to Nyheim Hines, who only played in the fourth quarter because of an injury. Another 9-yard strike to Hines and an 8-yarder to Brayden Sims to midfield with 25.8 seconds left.
Then a 31-yard completion to Hines for a first down at the Britt 22 with 11.2 seconds and a 13-yarder to Lanier to the 7 with 2.9 seconds left. An illegal procedure call pushed the ball back to the 12 with time for one more play.
Britts Keon Young stepped in front of a pass intended for Lanier and the game, and the season, were over.
One era ended, too, because Smith will not return as coach next season and the Trojans were a senior-dominated team. Three offensive linemen, quarterback, tailback, fullback, leading receiver, entire defensive line, most of the linebackers and most of the defensive backs are expected to graduate.
Garner has been to the playoffs for 27 consecutive years. It will try again next year with a new coach.