DURHAM — Southern Durham has one of the most impressive offenses in the state when the team gets rocking.
But for the past two weeks, a big-play defense – including the punt-return team – has carried the day for the Big Eight 3A champions.
The defense was primarily responsible for 23 points as the No. 2 Spartans beat No. 4 Wilson Hunt 38-10 in the state 3AA Eastern final on Friday night.
Southern (13-2) has won 12 straight games since a loss to 4A superpower Scotland on Sept. 13 and its first Eastern championship. The team will take on Shelby Crest, which eliminated three-time defending state champ Northern Guilford 23-17 in overtime, Dec. 14 for the state title at Winston-Salem’s BB&T Field.
Putting the Big East 3A champion Warriors (12-4) in tough field position produced four scoring plays.
The Spartans went up 9-0 on a safety on a bad snap on a punt with 7 minutes, 4 seconds left in the first quarter.
They took advantage of another botched punt to take a 17-10 halftime lead on a two-play drive from the Warriors’ 14 that ended in a four-yard pass from Kendall Hinton to Jordan Brown.
It went to 24-10 with 7:50 left in the third on Hinton’s nine-yard pass to Trowell, two plays after Josh Manns recovered a fumble that Kameron Johnson forced at the Hunt 14.
“We played a great game,” Manns said. “We did a good job keeping our heads in the game all night. Special teams were really good. This is great that we’re going to the state championship for the first time in school history.”
The score for the two-TD lead at came on the first play after the Spartans had failed to get into the end zone following a 95-yard interception return by Jason Henderson.
“We worked really hard this week,” junior Henderson said. “We knew they had a good running game so we took them really seriously. On that pick I kind of saw it coming and just took off. They had just gotten two big catches on my other corner and I knew they were coming at me. I took off and it was just unreal.”
Southern’s lead increased to 31-10 at 7:17 of the period, the effective knockout punch coming as Tahj Spivey returned a blocked punt – Kameron Johnson on the block on that one – 15 yards to pay dirt.
“I just saw the opportunity,” said junior Spivey, who got his first career touchdown TD on the play. “The punter was already on the ground, so I just picked it up and did what I thought I did best. When we watched film, we really keyed in on special teams. We’ve got something special going. I’ve got a friend who says, ‘No pressure, no diamond,’ and without what we’ve gone through we wouldn’t even be here.”
Marvin Tillman, who had a 70-yard interception return in the 31-24 thriller over conference rival Orange last week, cut off Hunt with his interception at the Warriors’ 49 with 8:39 left that set up yet another score.