GARNER — Thurman Leach said he didnt expect his first game as Garner head coach to be an easy one, and it wasnt.
Nyheim Hines rushed 22 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 47 yards and returned a kickoff for another touchdown, but the Trojans needed a late defensive stand to hold off hard-luck Middle Creek 21-16 Friday night.
Middle Creek drove to the Garner 3 with 58 seconds left, but quarterback Jay Schuller couldnt handle a bad snap. Hines took a safety with 47 seconds to go, and the Mustangs ran out of time in their own territory.
The Trojans (14-1 last season) played in the Eastern 4AA title game in athletics director Nelson Smiths final campaign as head coach, while the Mustangs (11-2) advanced to the second round. Garner is No. 1 in the News & Observer rankings while Middle Creek is No. 4. Garner leads the all-time series 10-1.
Middle Creek is a good football team, said Leach, in his first year at the helm after 20 years as an assistant on the staff. Both teams made a lot of mistakes, but the effort was there.
Im happy for our kids and our coaches, and well get ready for Cleveland in the morning.
The Mustangs played without wide receiver and East Carolina commit Curtis Burston, out with a broken foot, and then lost starting quarterback Brant Grisel for the night to a concussion late in the second quarter.
We played some freshmen and a bunch of sophomores, Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano said. If somebody gets hurt, the next guys got to go. Brant got hurt and Jay Schuller stepped up. He doesnt talk a lot but hes just a great football player.
Weve had a lot of adversity, but it was good to see our guys never gave up.
Garner senior Brighton Hudson completed nine of 18 passes for 141 yards, two to Julius Barnes for 55 yards.
I was a little more nervous than usual, Hudson said. We just mixed it up and got some good holes. I made a few passes that helped us go down the field. But it was a great team effort.
After Grisel went 6-for-11 for 186 yards and a touchdown, Schuller who caught Grisels TD pass moved to quarterback and completed four of eight for 22 yards in the second half. Schuller caught two passes for 116 yards and carried six times for 31 yards.
Garner led 21-7 at halftime.
The Mustangs scored on their second possession, as Grisel found Schuller behind the defense up the middle for a 91-yard touchdown pass. Michael Rubinos boot made it 7-0 with 4:29 left in the first.
The ball got tipped up on a seam route and I just concentrated on the ball, said Schuller, who later took his first live snaps at quarterback. I felt like I stepped up and played pretty well, but it would have been nice to get the win.
The excitement didnt last long, as Hines responded by returning the kickoff 93 yards down the left sideline with Austin Marbrey adding the kick.
I just got great blocking all night, Hines said. On that kickoff, I just waited for (David) Remy to get me the block and I saw the line clear. I believe in Coach Leach and what he tells me to do.
After Aaron Smiths 34-yard return of a Grisel fumble, Hines went in from 11 yards out on the next play with Marbrey putting the Trojans ahead 14-7 at 3:23.
Rubinos 37-yard field-goal attempt early in the second quarter was tipped and fell short. Garner responded with a 15-play, 80-yard drive, with Hines going around left end from 5 yards out and Marbreys kick making it 21-7 with 2:52 left in the half.
Middle Creek threatened again, but Grisel left the game after a big hit from Raekwon Britton, and Rubino missed a 34-yard field-goal try in the closing seconds.
The Mustangs finished the scoring with 7:04 left in the third, as sophomore Isaiah Herring returned a blocked punt 30 yards for the score with Rubino adding the kick.