West Johnston’s greatest football season came up a few inches shy of being even greater.
The Wildcats saw their dream season come to an end, while the best year in Cape Fear history continued with the Colts’ 35-34 overtime win in the second round of the state 4A playoffs Friday night.
Tony Mack, who rushed for 92 yards and all four regulation touchdowns for West (10-2), came up about a hand short of pay dirt when coach Jimmy Williams decided to go for broke with a two-point conversion in overtime.
Mid-South conference champion Cape Fear (13-0), which had the first unbeaten regular football season in school history, will host Cardinal Gibbons in a third-round game on Friday night.
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“We were pretty even,” said West coach Williams, who has led the Wildcats to three straight playoff berths at a school where a winning season was a rarity prior to his arrival. “This felt like a fourth-round game played too early. Our kids answered every time they had to except the last play. We knew it was going down to the wire, and we came up about a half-yard short.
“We felt good about the call. We had already decided we were going to do it. We just called the timeout there to make sure it was the play we wanted. We knew we weren’t going to stop their quarterback from 10 yards out all night long.”
Cape Fear, champion of the Mid-South 4A, had advanced with a 62-3 rout of Greater Neuse River member Clayton in the first round.
West, which hadn’t been in a game as close as this all season, had rolled Mid-South member Pine Forest 28-0 in the first round.
Justice Galloway-Velazquez was the hero for Cape Fear, throwing for three touchdowns and passing for two more and producing 327 yards total offense.
“It was a hell of a game,” Cape Fear coach Jacob Thomas said. “Both teams played their butts off. Hats off to West Johnston. They’re a great team. It just went down to one last play and we got the stop when we needed to.”
Galloway-Velazquez scored the Colts’ overtime touchdown with Jacob Brewington adding his fifth conversion kick of the game.
West’s Andre Wilson, who rushed for 126 yards and passed for 104, then scored from five yards out before the hosts got their fateful final stop.
The teams were tied at 21-all at halftime after 24 minutes of offensive dominance.
Galloway-Velazquez hit Earlee Melvin for a 63-yard score on the Colts’ first play, but West responded with a sustained 10-play, 73-yard march to set up Mack’s first score.
After a kickoff return to the Wildcat 36, Cape Fear struck three plays later on a 15-yard pass from Galloway-Velazquez to A.J. Baldwin. The Wildcats responded again with a 29-yard scoring run from Mack.
Cape Fear got its third touchdown on a nine-yard Galloway-Velazquez keeper following a punt return to West’s 27.
West got a big break late in the half as Nick Mastroiani picked off a Galloway-Velazquez pass and returned it to the 5, with Mack going in from two yards out with 14.9 seconds left.
The teams traded second-half touchdowns, as Galloway-Velazquez hit Malik Knight for a 52-yard score midway through the third before Mack answered with a six-yard scamper less than two minutes later.