FOUR OAKS — Tears were shed and there were many hugs to go around in an emotional post-game huddle for the Smithfield-Selma football team Friday night.
For the Spartans’ dramatic 22-21 victory over rival South Johnston wasn’t just the usual run-of-the-mill come-from-behind win, it was in fact the team’s first win in 41 games.
Chris Samuels completed a second-half comeback that saw the Spartans erase a 21-0 South Johnston halftime lead with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Raequan Smith on fourth-and-16 with 1:29 left in the game.
Chris Parker’s extra point gave Smithfield-Selma a 22-21 lead and its first win since 2010 – a 23-17 win over Fayetteville Pine Forest on Sept. 3, 2010.
SSS beat Harnett Central 21-16 last year but later had to forfeit the loss because of the use of an ineligible player in the game.
South Johnston had a chance to win late but Trojans’ 44-yard field goal attempt in the game’s final seconds was short.
“It’s hard to put into words how proud of these young men I am,” Smithfield-Selma coach David Lawhon said. “The character of these 24 players right here to come to practice every Monday after every loss ready to go … they saw what perseverance does.
“It’s a great feeling and it’s a great step hopefully for the program.”
In the third quarter, the Spartans began finding running lanes and Tyler McDougle, Samuels and Smith all started to help the visitors move the chains.
On Smithfield-Selma’s first drive of the second half, Chris Samuels found the end zone from eight yards to get the Spartans on the board.
Smith drew Smithfield-Selma (1-10, 1-4) to within 21-15 early in the third quarter on a three-yard touchdown run.
As South Johnston (2-9, 1-4) was trying to run out the clock and earn a potential playoff bid by virture of finishing in a three-way tie for third and winning the accompanying coin toss earlier in the day to break the tie, a fumble recovered by Chris Tippin gave the Spartans life.
Six plays later on fourth-and-long, Samuels was pressured out of the pocket before heaving the ball for the end zone where Smith made an acrobatic catch with a Trojan defender draped all over him.
“I saw my man in the corner of the end zone so I tossed it up,” Samuels said. “He made the play. ... It was tough down 21-0, but we had to pull through.”
South Johnston senior quarterback Garrett Smith ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score to build the big lead.
Smith finished his night 123 passing yards and 105 more on the ground.