RALEIGH — The win didn’t come easy and Sanderson’s defense had to make a stop in the closing seconds, but the Spartans got their first win under first-year coach Ben Kolstad, 17-14 against Apex at Gregson Stadium Friday night.
Sanderson (1-2) was without starting quarterback Matt Koehler, who was out with an injury, so Kolstad put the game in the hands of his offensive line, running back Jeriko Styles and the defense.
“That’s the way we want to play. We want to run the football, play good defense, and I thought we did that,” Kolstad said. “And other than giving up a couple of big plays, I though we did that. Apex is good. They’re a physical team and not afraid to come at you.”
Apex (1-2) struggled in the first half, but managed to stay within striking range. The Cougars scored on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Grayson Boyd to Fred Sharpe to pull to within 17-14 with 1 minute, 54 seconds left to play.
Sanderson recovered the following onside kick, but had to turn the ball back over with 47 seconds left when Styles was stopped on a fourth and one at the Apex 43.
Boyd then completed three passes, but time ran out as Sanderson defender Robert Murphy pulled down Sharpe at the Sanderson 33 to end the game.
“They played a tough, physical football game and we need to learn a lesson about playing from the opening kickoff,” Apex coach Joe Kilby said. “We played some good defense at times but offensively we made a few big plays but didn’t sustain anything.”
Sanderson jumped ahead 3-0 on a first quarter 27-yard field goal by Gray Grayson.
But Apex responded with a swing pass from Grayson Boyd to Ian Boyd that turned into a 65-yard scoring play and a 7-3 lead. The Cougars managed just 23 more yards in the first half.
Sanderson took a 10-7 halftime lead on a 1-yard run by Bollinger, and then went up 17-7 early in the fourth period as Styles ran in from the 3-yard line for what proved to be the winning points.
Sophomore Brett Bollinger stepped in to quarterback the Spartans. He completed both of his pass attempts for 17 yards and spent a lot of plays handing off to Styles who rushed for 186 yards on 40 carries.
“It takes an effort from everyone in a win like this but we did run behind Simon Jackowski, Elijah Bell, and our tight end, Jah Laville, a lot,” Kolstad said. “And (senior defensive end) Antwuan Elliott was a real leader on defense, and we came up with some big stops early.”