The theme of Orange’s final season with Pat Moser as head coach was exorcising demons from their past.
In September, they romped past Southern Durham, the lone obstacle that kept from the Big 8 Conference Championship the past three years. On Friday night, Orange’s season ended against a demon that dashed their state championship hopes in 2013. And an era ended with it.
Solomon Belligotti scored two touchdowns, including one with 5:25 remaining, as Havelock defeated Orange 14-7 in the second round of the 3A state playoffs. The Rams (12-1) advanced to the third round, where they will face Coastal Conference rival West Craven next week. The Eagles handed the Rams its only loss of the season.
Havelock also ended Orange’s 2012 season on its way to the 3A state championship.
Cooper finished with 13-of-20 with 150 yards and an interception, along with 53 yards rushing.
Orange (12-1) made a late attempt to tie, but safety Jeffrey Harris intercepted a pass from quarterback Jackson Schmid at the goal line.
Moser, who has led Orange to a 59-10 record since 2012, announced his plans to retire at season’s end in August.
“I knew how good their defense was and I knew how good our defense was,” said Moser. “I knew it was going to be a battle of titans. I think Havelock can win the state championship. I think we could have won the state championship. I think this game maybe was decides that. It’s a shame we had to play them in the second round.”
The two teams were so evenly matched, they played a scoreless first half where Orange outgained the Rams 133-131. In Havelock’s first possession of the 2nd half, quarterback Corey Cooper engineered a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. After converting a 3rd-and-10 with a 13-yard completion to Khalil Barrett, Cooper moved across midfield after a 13-yard run. Running back Cameron Hutchinson invaded the red zone on a 28-yard run, leading to Beligotti scoring on a one-yard plunge with 4:38 remaining.
Orange’s Marvante Beasley evened the game on a 80-yard touchdown run with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The critical play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter after the Rams were hit with consecutive penalties. On a second-and-18, Cooper found Christian Capps for a 23 yard gain. It was Capps’ eighth catch of the year. Beligotti scored six plays later.
From 1992-2007, Orange didn’t have a winning season. Now, the man responsible for taking them to the top of the Big 8 Conference is walking away, his last game coming three weeks after the death of his father.
“I don’t really sit back and reflect what we’ve built here,” said Moser, who coached eight years at Orange. “It will have to sink in. I’m going to retire in June. The first thing that entered my mind is what I just told the kids. I’m still going to do the spring weight training. I’m still going to help all I can.”