Endless possibilities confronted Western Harnett coach Jason Furrie before the most important play of his club’s Two Rivers 3A Conference football showdown Monday at Smithfield-Selma.
Though they never trailed, the Eagles saw their lead diminish to two points after a late Smithfield-Selma touchdown with five seconds left in the fourth period.
As he helped his squad prepare for the ensuing and decisive two-point conversion, Furrie could have taken an analytical, strategic approach to the moment, utilizing intangibles such as scheme, formation, tendency and probability in an attempt to decipher –and foil – the Spartans’ plans.
Furrie, however, took a much different tact.
Never miss a local story.
“Really, we didn’t know what (Smithfield-Selma) was going to try to do," Furrie said. “So we just told our guys to go get them.”
Said Western Harnett linebacker Dalaquan Alston-Ray: “We were just looking for a stop. That’s all we were saying.”
The simplified, time-honored approach worked as Alston-Ray was one of three Eagles’ defenders to swarm on a sweep attempt -- and preserve Western Harnett’s 21-19 decision over the Spartans at Charles Tucker Stadium.
Not only did the Eagles (2-6 overall, 1-1 league) gain a key Two Rivers 3-A Conference victory, they also erased their recent hex of dropping to-the-wire contests, including back-to-back setbacks against Bartlett-Yancey and South Johnston.
“We lost both of those games literally on the last play," Furrie said. “We shouldn’t have lost either one. So for us to come up with that big stop at the end, you don’t know how big that was."
Western Harnett’s closing heroics also dashed a spirited comeback attempt from Smithfield-Selma (0-8, 0-2), which used strong performances from several young players to erase and early deficit.
After 47:55 of action, there was still no clear-cut winner as the Spartans clawed back from being 15 points down -- and came within 21-19 when sophomore Deron George scored his third touchdown of the night on a 5-yard run.
Smithfield-Selma had to go for a two-pointer in an attempt to tie the score, and the ball went to 10th-grader Ziggy Durogene on a sweep right.
But the Eagles used quick pursuit to turn in Durogene, and he was stopped two yards short of the goal-line.
“We tried to run with one of our speedsters," said SSS coach Wes Hill. “We had success with that play, but (Western Harnett) got outside on that one and made a good play on us."
The Spartans tried an ensuing onsides kick, but it went out-of-bounds, and the Eagles went to the victory formation for one play to finish off the hard-fought conquest.
THREE TO KNOW
Jacob Whittington, Smithfield-Selma: Seeing the most extensive varsity playing time of his young career, Whittington, a quarterback, showed poise and skill by throwing for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Deron George, Smithfield-Selma: The Spartans fell behind 15-0 early but received a much-needed spark when George hauled in a 72-yard touchdown pass from Whittington with 7:48 remaining in the second period. George also caught a 44-yard TD from Whittington later in the second stanza before finding the end zone once again with five seconds left.
Gordon Thomas, Western Harnett: A bruising fullback, Thomas compiled 71 rushing yards and one touchdown to spark the Eagles’ balanced offense.
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Smithfield-Selma forced a trio of Western Harnett fumbles in the second half. That helped keep the Eagles off the scoreboard over the final 24 minutes -- and gave the Spartans opportunities to make a comeback.
284: Western Harnett rushed for 284 total yards, thanks to seven different ballcarriers.
27: The Spartans had scored only 27 points the entire year, but came to life offensively on Monday as players such as Whittington, Deron George and Jaylen Traynahem made their most extensive contributions of the season.
2: The Eagles have now opened the game against Smithfield-Selma with an onsides kick for two straight campaigns -- and it has worked each time. Western Harnett kicked off after SSS deferred, and lined up in a bunch formation as Kevin Maldonado kicked the ball about 15 yards straight up the middle of the field, where the Eagles recovered.
The kick set up Thomas’ 3-yard TD run, and the Eagles would never trail.
Dalaquan Alston-Ray: A senior, Ray was supposed to be one of the Western Harnett’s top defenders this year, but he has been limited due to an injury. Alston-Ray didn’t play much Monday, but he was on the field for the Spartans’ final drive and made three key stops, including the tackle on the 2-pointer.
“(Alston-Ray) is a special player," Furrie said. “This was his first game back and he really wanted to get in there."
Said Alston-Ray: “I just want to do what I can to help this team get to the playoffs. This was an amazing win. It gets us one step closer to the playoffs, and that is where we want to be."
THEY SAID IT
“We started out the season slowly," said Western Harnett quarterback Devonte Edwards. “We are playing much better as a team now. We are getting better, and we put it all together. We had a few mishaps, but did pretty well other than that."