Garner can turn to the 11 guys on defense and thank them for a spot in the 4AA East regional final next Friday.
The Trojans hammered Panther Creek, forcing five turnovers in a 31-6 win Friday in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA playoffs.
Garner (13-1) held Panther Creek (11-3) to minus-17 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Matthew Butler had four sacks and seven tackles for loss including a forced fumble. Raekwon Britton had an interception, a sack, four pass deflections, a forced fumble and a fumble return for touchdown.
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“They had a fumble and a couple interceptions that we capitalized on and that was the difference of the game,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said.
It was Butler’s fourth sack that forced a fumble by Panther Creek quarterback Brenden Magner, allowing Britton to run it in from 47 yards out in the third quarter and a 28-6 lead.
It was Britton’s fourth defensive touchdown in the playoffs, and as good as the Trojans were playing, it was more than enough.
“Raekwon is a great competitor,” Leach said. “I couldn’t ask for any more effort. I know the kids feed off his energy.”
Garner’s special teams provided the opening spark as David Hamilton returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and early 6-0 lead after a missed point after.
Panther Creek running back Toney Bass (16 carries, 29 yards) fumbled on its third drive, giving Garner the ball at the 15.
One play later, Nyheim Hines scored on a 15-yard run on the final play of the first quarter. Brodie West (2-of-5 passing, 9 yards) threw to Nyquan Williams for the two-point conversion and 14-0 lead.
Hines was not on the field for the rest of the night as he continues to nurse his knee bruise. Hines had four total touches for 31 total yards (25 rushing).
Colin Eaddy (5 carries, 28 yards) 2-yard run for touchdown with 8 minutes, 30 seconds before halftime made it 21-0 Garner.
Garner ran 42 times with Dwayne Holloway leading all rushers with 14 carries for 91 yards.
Panther Creek scored on a 38-yard pass from Magner (13 of 29, 223 yards) to Diamante Taylor (3 catches, 50 yards). The extra point was blocked – another Garner staple of the playoffs – to keep Garner ahead 21-6 going into halftime.
Noah Giroux kicked a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to round out the scoring.
Panther Creek’s defense held Garner to 162 yards of total offense on 47 plays. Da’Shaquan Campbell had two sacks to spearhead the defensive effort.
Senior Tre Sullivan had two catches for 76 yards to lead all receivers.
“They hit us early with the kickoff return and then we fumbled inside the 15-yard line, so we started in a hole. That let them pin their ears back a little bit, so some of the things we wanted to do, we had to get out of really quick,” Panther Creek coach Sean Crocker said. “Our defense played really well. Twenty-one of (the points) was with a short field or a return.”
It was the deepest playoff run for Panther Creek in Crocker’s three seasons.
“We probably overachieved a little bit. We were a little young on offense,” Crocker said. “We’ll bring back about eight starters on offense and two or three on defense. ... The future is bright for us.”
Garner will travel to undefeated Wake Forest next week, the first time the two have tangled in the postseason since the 2010 third round. They also met in the second round of 2009, but both games were won by the Cougars.
Michael Held contributed to this report.