Two things were required for Garner to turn back Knightdale in a battle between the past two Greater Neuse River 4A Conference champions Friday night: guts and some of that old-school Trojan swagger.
The Garner defense provided the guts, and receiver/defensive back Raekwon Britton provided the swagger as the Trojans scored 28 second-half points after an abysmal first half to down Knightdale 28-6.
Britton caught the go-ahead touchdown, a 25-yard connection with quarterback Brodie West, then intercepted a Knights pass to set up a one-play TD drive to put Garner (8-1, 5-0), ranked fourth in the N&O poll, in control for the rest of the night.
“We just kept competing and competing on defense, feeding off of each other,” Britton said. “We want to play with a little swag on defense, and the guys look for me to provide some of that swag.”
West, who had his best game of the season (12-of-19, 216 yards, 2 TDs), dropped a pass perfectly into the hands of Aaron Grange for a 27-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
Garner standout senior running back Nyheim Hines, playing under the gaze of Duke coach David Cutcliffe, added two late fourth-quarter touchdown runs for the final margin. Hines finished with 134 yards rushing on 20 carries.
“You’ve got to win the ugly ones, too,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “Knightdale’s a well-coached, proven team with playoff experience. … That was a playoff defense we saw tonight.”
Knightdale (3-6, 1-4) led 6-0 at halftime behind a leaping 17-yard touchdown catch by Kameron Ballen early in the second quarter. But the Knights didn’t come close to scoring the rest of the way.
Garner held the Knights to 6 yards rushing on 23 carries.
The Knights, the defending GNRC champions, played solid defense much of the night, too. They limited Hines, the area’s leading rusher with more than 1,400 yards coming into the game, to 9 yards on eight carries in the first half. Garner had a net loss of 26 yards rushing in the half.
Britton caught three passes from West on Garner’s opening drive of the second half, during which the Trojans spread around the ball to generate offense.
“We had to put the ball in the air,” Britton said. “We saw Knightdale was giving us some room, so we ran some underneath routes, trying to take advantage of that space.”
With Garner leading 14-6 and 4:11 to play, Britton (five catches, 98 yards) turned one of those short passes into a 33-yard gain on third-and-5 from the Knights’ 38-yard line. He pulled in a 10-yard curl from West and then shaked and baked his way around a defender to get the first down.
Hines scored from 4 yards on the next play, putting Garner up by 15.