LAURINBURG — The best season in Knightdale High school history didn’t end exactly like the Knights wanted, but they took a big state power to the wire on the road before it all came to an end.
It wasn’t until Jaylend Ratliffe scored from three yards out with 16 seconds to go that favored Scotland got past the Knights 24-17 in the third round of the state 4A playoffs Friday night at frigid Pate Stadium.
Robert Senseney’s Knights (11-2), the No. 4 seed and first-time Greater Neuse River 4A champion, had fallen 39-14 in the first round of last year’s 4-A playoffs at Clayton after ending a long run of losing seasons.
Top-seeded Scotland (14-0) will host Greenville Rose next week for the Eastern championship. Scotland, now in its second season under Richard Bailey, fell 23-6 at New Bern on last season’s Eastern 4A final.
Scotland, which lost six fumbles in the game, went 70 yards in five plays on its final drive, the key play being a 54-yard connection from Ratliffe to Trejon Monley to the Knightdale 5.
“I thought it was an ‘A’ effort,” Senseney said. “We fought and scratched. We weren’t just going to walk off the field and let them have it.
“We play physical football. That’s what we always preach and the kids did what they’d been taught. We just coach up the group that comes and take them as far as they can grow. It’s a rebirth every year.”
Marquavious Johnson rushed 18 times for 153 yards and a touchdown for Knightdale, which got a 90-yard fumble return for a touchdown from his brother Marcell.
“Every game our defense has stepped up and played the best they can,” said Marquavious Johnson, who will play at East Carolina next season. “We’ve come a long way. My freshman year we only won one game. I can’t ask for a better team to have played with.”
Ratliffe rushed 21 times for 133 yards and the two scores for Scotland, while Josh McPhatter ran 19 times for 80 yards and one TD.
“We didn’t play great tonight,” Bailey said. “But Knightdale forced us into mistakes.
“They had a great game plan and their coaches had them ready to play. We showed some resilience and kept fighting and came up with a big play at the end.”
The Scots, No. 2 in The Associated Press 4A rankings, led 10-7 at halftime after losing three fumbles in the first 24 minutes.
Knightdale, which had only four offensive snaps in the first quarter, took the lead with 5:19 left in the period on Marcell Johnson’s 90-yard fumble return down the left sideline. Taylor Betts’ kick took the lead to 7-0.
“Our defense made a great play and hit the quarterback,” Marcell Johnson said. “I saw on the ground and was just thinking, ‘Scoop and score.’ That’s all the defense knows.
“We played our hearts out every game. We knew we always had a chance to win and never doubted ourselves.”
Scotland got onto the board on its third possession, as Ben Utter nailed a 30-yard field goal on the first play of the second period to end a 12-play, 67-yard drive.
Scotland made it 10-7 with 2:47 left in the half, as Ratliffe went in from a yard out to end a nine-play, 75-yard drive and Utter added the kick.
Knightdale had a chance to tie it at the half, but Betts’ 30-yard field-goal attempt at the buzzer was wide right.
Scotland got some breathing room with 6:11 left in the third quarter, when McPhatter danced into the end zone from 10 yards out to complete a seven-play, 72-yard drive. Utter’s boot made it 17-7.
But the Knights retaliated with a seven-play, 66-yard drive with Marquavious Johnson going in from five yards out. Betts’ kick made it 17-14.
And they tied the score with 11:56 left on Betts’ 21-yard field goal, six plays after the Knights’ sixth fumble recovery of the game at the Scotland 33.