Rivals Knightdale and East Wake appeared headed to overtime with the score tied at 14-14 and the game winding down to the final minute.
Then Knightdale’s Nyjil Thomas took over.
The senior wide receiver and free safety fielded a punt at his own 35 on the right side of the field, cut across to the left sideline and raced to the East Wake 18 before being pushed out of bounds.
He wasn’t done yet. No sir.
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Thomas caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Conner in the back corner of the end zone for the winning points with 42.8 seconds remaining. Then, for good measure, he intercepted a desperation pass by East Wake quarterback Jazon Scarboro to ice the 21-14 victory.
“It felt great,” Thomas said. “I told Khirell (Knight) when we were back waiting for the punt that I was going to go right and then hit the left sideline. ... Then I caught the winning touchdown. The whole team was behind me.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair.
East Wake controlled the first half, getting two short touchdowns from Mikekale Engles (115 yards rushing) and leading 14-0 at halftime.
“I told the kids at halftime, we are not going to let them score again,” Knightdale coach Anthony Timmons said. “This is something they will remember the rest of their lives.”
The Knights scored the first two times they had the ball in the second half.
From their own 38, they executed a perfect hook-and-lateral with Joshua Davidson catching a pass and the lateraling to Devin Hill, who went the final 20 yards for the score.
On their second possession, after Knight made the first of his two interceptions in the game, Conner capped a 56-yard drive with a 2-yard run.
“They understood that we were going to lean heavily and they stacked the box up, and when they did we weren’t able to lean on our passing game which was being opened up,” East Wake coach John Poulnott said.
So it stayed 14-14. Until Thomas’ heroics.
“Nyjil Thomas has been our leader and has been our catalyst all season,” Timmons said. “He stepped up when we got our first win of the season against Rolesville and he stepped up again tonight.
“This is a testament to our kids. They have been going through some tough situations but they kept fighting. This is going to pay off 10 or 20 years down the road as they become men.”