FAYETTEVILLE — Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad didn't think of his team as a 14-seed and the Spartans certainly didn't play like one Friday night in a 42-35 loss to Jack Britt in the first round of the state 4-AA football playoffs.
Having to face the powerful Buccaneers in the first round of the state playoffs is a tough draw, but a couple of Spartans mistakes led to two easy first quarter scores for the 9-3 hosts, who survived the upset bid and will host Garner in round two.
"We're better than a 14 seed, we're better," Kolstad said. "We had everybody beat this year. I just feel bad for these kids. The kids fought hard every game they played this year. I can't fault them for that. This was a good experience for us. I wish we could have come out on top."
Stopping the Bucs offense was difficult for Sanderson and Britt opened the game with a 9-play, 56-yard touchdown drive, Sandnerson came right back with an 11-play 76-yard scoring drive of its own, with Jeriko Styles, who rushed for 148 yards in the game, scoring from the five.
Two Sanderson mistakes late in the quarter, which led to two Britt touchdowns in the final minute of the opening quarter, proved to be too much to overcome. Britt missed on a field goal, but Sanderson was penalized on the play and Britt used the second chance to score a touchdown for a 14-7 lead.
Sanderson fumbled on the kickoff and four plays later Britt scored again and led 21-7. Two Britt touchdowns in 48 seconds.
Sanderson outscored Britt 28-21 over the final three quarters, but never could regain the lead.
Sanderson put together a fourth quarter 12-play, 73-yard drive with quarterback Matt Koehler tossing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Leonel Katuku. Grayson Gregory's fifth extra point of the game made the score 42-35 with 2:53 to play.
It was then up to the Spartans defense and on third and one, linebacker Deandre Pitts stopped quarterback Harrison Strother running wide for a 6-yard loss, forcing a punt.
After starting on their own 23, the Spartans got to the Bucs' 40, but Styles, Sanderson's workhorse runner all year, fumbled and Britt recovered to end the Spartans' upset bid.
"We couldn't handle them defensively, they're good on O. We couldn't score enough," Kolstad said. "The turnover on the kickoff was bad and some mistakes... we just gave them too many chances. We can blame whatever we want, it just didn't go our way tonight. It's too bad."
Eric Carter led Britt with 195 yards rushing and he scored three touchdowns. Strother passed for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Styles scored two touchdowns and Zairee Parker rushed for 89 yards for Sanderson. Koehler passed for 130 yards with touchdown passes to Katuku and Jah Laville. Katuku also scored on a 6-yard run.