Middle Creek found itself in a rare spot in its 4AA N.C. High School Athletic Association second-round playoff game against Sanderson on Friday night at Mustang Stadium.
The Mustangs were losing.
But Middle Creek (13-0) responded in a big way, blasting the Spartans 45-7.
“They had a great gameplan, and they were executing it the way they wanted to execute it,” Mustangs coach Randy Ragland said. “We talked that we might face some adversity, because we knew we were playing a good team. But I thought our team responded well to it.”
Middle Creek, No. 1 in The News & Observer football rankings, plays Garner, which beat Richmond County 54-37 on Nov. 25, next Friday night.
No. 12 Sanderson (9-4) ended a stellar season after winning in the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
“What I’m most proud of is the way we adapted,” Sanderson coach Ben Kolstad said. “We lost two senior leaders for the season, and we changed as a team. I’m proud of the way they stepped up and fought. They got better, and we grew as a program this year.”
The Middle Creek defense, which hadn’t given up a score in its last three games, was sluggish at the start. A 25-yard touchdown pass from Justin Dunn to James Debruhl gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead midway through the second and marked the first time in five games that Middle Creek trailed.
“We would’ve had to have played perfect, and we started out the game perfect,” Kolstad said.
But that lead was short-lived. Rasheed Martin took a swing pass from Dominique Shoffner, angled toward the sideline and sprinted 84 yards for a touchdown that tied it at 7-7.
Sanderson fumbled on its next play, and Middle Creek’s Trevor Kirkland kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Mustangs a 10-7 lead. Middle Creek’s Daniel Jackson then picked off a Justin Dunn pass and returned it 22 yards for another score.
Shoffner was brilliant, completing 24 of 26 passes for 327 yards and three scores. Nine Mustangs caught passes from Shoffner, including Jordan Mitchell, who had two TD receptions.
“We had a game plan going into it, and I told him not to try to do too much, just do what they allow you to do,” Ragland said of Shoffner. “We didn’t think they were going to let us beat them deep. We thought we could catch stuff underneath, and that’s what we did – and we made big plays out of them.”
Meanwhile, Middle Creek stymied Dunn, who started 8-for-8 but then missed on 11 of his next 12 passes.