Middle Creek’s Elijah Perry missed the game-winning touchdown because of his game-changing play.
The running back capped off a big night with a 65-yard run that put the Mustangs in position to score in the final minute and defeat rival Garner on Friday night 28-21.
Perry got cramps on his final carry of the night, taking the ball from his own 18 to the Garner 17. Three plays, later, teammate Stuart Fine ran in a 6-yard touchdown with 54.5 seconds left.
But Perry, who had 227 yards rushing on 21 carries for two touchdowns, was all smiles.
“It was the effort of my O-line. If they didn’t continue to block, there’s no way I would’ve had that rush. I just ran. It just opened up as I ran,” Perry said.
“We said, ‘You’ve got one more big run in you,’ ” Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano said. “We thought we were going to hit it.”
Even if the hundreds of fans who lined the fences to watch rivals Garner and Middle Creek on Friday night had seats, they wouldn’t have used them for the final minutes.
The Mustangs, ranked fifth in The News & Observer area rankings, led 14-0 in the first quarter and appeared destined for a blowout after recovering an onsides kick.
Middle Creek led 21-7 at halftime, but Garner had one rally left in them.
Middle Creek had limited Garner star Nyheim Hines’ big-play ability for most of the night – his longest carry was 17 – but it was the senior’s arm that got the Trojans back into it.
Hines took a toss right, stopped and threw down the sideline for Jarvin Holder. Holder’s catch-and-run went for 72 yards to tie the game at 21-all with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Hines had capped off the first drive of the third quarter with a 14-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14 with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the period. He had 28 carries for 167 yards on the ground and a score.
“We could’ve folded the tent and gotten worse,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “It hurts right now. These kids hurt. But we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to improve our leadership and improve in all phases of the game.”
The night belonged to Perry, who Castellano challenged before the game.
“I was told he was too small, too slow, too this or that throughout the recruiting process. I challenged him tonight to be the best player on the field and have double the yardage of any other player,” Castellano said.
Perry’s only college offer is from Campbell.
“I was doubted, so that pushed me to go even farther with my skills this summer,” Perry said. “It’s a confidence booster. My hard work is paying off.”
Perry broke an 80-yard touchdown in the first quarter. It was the second play after a juggling, one-handed interception in the end zone by teammate Johnathan Spencer.
Garner got on the board in the second quarter with an 18-yard interception for touchdown from Holder to make it 21-7. Raekwon Britton and David Remy also added interceptions for the Trojans.
Middle Creek’s only passing touchdown came on the game’s first possession, a 12-play drive that ended with Brant Grisel finding Quadir Ford on a 12-yard score.
When it was clear Garner was taking away Middle Creek’s tunnel screens, things opened up for the halfback draw. Fine had 10 carries for 93 yards including a 62-yarder.
“I thought offensive coordinator (Steve) Burdeau did an awesome job of evolving throughout the game to what they were doing to what we could get,” Castellano said.
Middle Creek and Garner have played three times in the last calendar year, and the final score has been withone one possession each time.
“It’s something serious,” Perry said. “It’s just two competitive teams. We battle each other and push each other to get better. It’s just always been there, I don’t know what it is.”