DURHAM — Southern Durham built a four-touchdown lead early in its Big Eight 3A showdown with Orange Friday night.
And the Spartans needed just about every bit of it.
It turned out to be a track meet of a football game that wasn’t decided until the Panthers ran out of downs deep in Spartan territory in the final minute as Southern survived 55-41 to win the conference’s inaugural football championship.
The Spartans finished the regular season 9-2 and 7-0 in conference play, while Orange (10-1, 6-1) was denied its first-ever undefeated regular season in the school’s 50th year.
It was the teams’ first meeting since Southern won 54-13 in 2004 when both were in the former Five County 3A.
“We knew this was a good team that wasn’t going to bow down to us,” Southern coach Adrian Jones said. “We learned a lesson tonight. When we’re up on a team like that, we’ve just got to keep playing.”
The Spartans won on a night junior quarterback Kendall Hinton threw for 452 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 128 yards and another score.
Maurice Trowell caught eight passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans, while Derrick Mason caught 10 for 157 and two scores.
“Our defense stepped up big when it had to,” Hinton said. “My O-line and receivers just did a great job. We had great teamwork. This was a really big game, our first conference championship in four years and senior night.”
Orange’s junior quarterback Garrett Cloer had a big night in the loss, throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
Tay Jones rushed seven times for 117 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown. He also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass for the Panthers, while Patrick Pettiford carried 12 times for 78 yards and caught a 74-yard touchdown pass.
“I don’t know what was wrong with us early,” Orange coach Pat Moser said. “I’m trying to be positive, but I can’t be. Our first quarter was horrible.
“We have to come out ready to play from the opening bell. But I was proud of our kids the way we played the last three quarters. That first quarter just killed us.”
The Spartans led 34-13 at halftime. Southern wasted little time establishing control, rolling to a 27-0 lead less than 13 minutes into the game.
After running out of downs at the Orange 14 on their first possession, the Spartans scored on their next four possessions.
But Jones’ 92-yard scoring run that finally got the Panthers on the board slowed Southern’s momentum and prevented the game from turning into a rout.
Pettiford scored on a five-yard run on Orange’s first possession of the second half to make it 34-20.
Southern scored two more TDs with the Panthers responding each time, before Orange sliced the margin to 48-41 on Pettiford’s long reception from Cloer with 3:08 to play.
But the Spartans scored once more on Hinton’s 42-yard pass to Trowell with 1:58 left, and the Panthers were unable to answer.
“We came out in the first half and got smacked in the face, and we didn’t like it,” Cloer said. “We can’t do that and we paid for it. I’m sure we’ll come Monday with a little extra juice in our practice.”