WENDELL — This time it was a Johnston County classic.
Aaron Farmer ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns and Isaac Martin ran for 126 and another touchdown as Cleveland held off Corinth Holders 34-32 in their Two Rivers 3A showdown on a frigid Friday night.
The Rams won despite a career-type night from Pirate quarterback Cole Sakowski, who completed 26 of 36 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Sakowski completed 13 straight during one stretch in the first half.
Cleveland improved to 6-3 overall and more importantly 3-0 in conference play with the win, while the Pirates fell to 6-3 and 1-2.
“Corinth Holders has a very good football team,” Cleveland coach Marc Morris said. “They battled all night. We were fortunate to be up at halftime.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Barry (Honeycutt) and their staff. They’ve been through a lot of battles. We’re fortunate to have gotten two wins in two trips here.”
Each is in their fourth year as a school, the teams were squaring off as conference foes for the first time. The Rams, who had won the first two varsity meetings by a total score of 118-19, were previously in the Eastern Carolina 3A while the Pirates were in the Northern Carolina 2A.
“We executed the offense and made plays early in the game,” Honeycutt said. “We were able to score points.
“We fought back in the second half and put ourselves in position to tie the game. The kids fought hard all night, and in the past we didn’t fight like that against them.”
The Pirates got onto the board on their second possession, going 42 yards in four plays with Sakowski connecting with Tori Carmichael – who was lost later in the first half to a possible broken right leg - on a 28-yard scoring pass. Daniel Farmer added the conversion kick with 5:54 left in the first quarter.
Corinth Holders doubled its lead at the 3:15 mark, as Sakowski connected with Hampton Smith from 4 yards out to end a three-play, 45-yard drive, and Farmer added the kick.
Daniel Farmer added a 19-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the quarter.
Aaron Farmer got the Pirates on the board with 8:54 left in the half, making a 1-yard plunge to finish a five-play, 47-yard march. T.J. DeLuca added the kick.
“We had a lot of momentum going into halftime, and that really helped us,” Aaron Farmer said. “We knew they would be a better team than in the past, and if we played hard things were going to work out.”
Daniel Farmer added a 29-yard field goal to give the Pirates a 20-7 lead with 3:38 left in the half.
But the Rams took advantage of a fumble for another Aaron Farmer touchdown from 9 yards out to finish a three-play, 15-yard drive with 39.6 left in the half.
And following an onside kick, Cleveland went 42 yards in three plays – two of them Aaron Farmer completions to Corey Brown – with Farmer plunging in from five yards out at 12.1. DeLuca’s kick broke the tie.
The Rams extended their lead with 6:42 left in the third as Chris Lee blocked Daniel Farmer’s punt and Quinton Ross recovered in the end zone. But DeLuca’s kick was awry.
Corinth Holders cut it back to 27-26 with 5:34 left in the quarter on a 37-yard pass from Sakowski to Tony Kirkwood, but a bad snap foiled the conversion attempt.
But the Rams took the margin to 34-26 on a 2-yard run from Isaac Martin with 3:46 left in the quarter followed by DeLuca’s kick. Farmer had a 44-yard run during the drive.
“I felt good about the way we played,” Martin said. “We came out a little bit slow, but we stepped it up when we needed to. No doubt about it, Corinth Holders is a good football team now.”
The Pirates cut it back to two on Sakowski’s 13-yard pass to Matt Good at 6:19, but the conversion pass came up short.
“We believe we’re the best team we’ve ever been this year,” Sakowski said. “We had to believe it to play with those boys, and we almost got it. We’re three plays away from being unbeaten. We just need to keep working and we’ll win out and go to the playoffs.”
Corinth Holders got the ball for one final play in the closing seconds, but ran out of downs near midfield.