Jacksonville advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA East final with a wild 45-42 victory over Lee County at Paul B. Gay Stadium on Friday night.
The Cardinals (10-4) piled up 558 total yards but trailed the Yellow Jackets 42-38 in the fourth quarter. On the 10th lead change of the game, Rashaud Whittington scored on a 1-yard run that capped an 80-yard drive with 2:07 to play.
Lee County (12-2) converted one third down on its final drive, but quarterback Jory Perkins missed on third- and fourth-down throws.
Jackets coach Burton Cates was denied his 299th career victory.
Jacksonville will face Eastern Guilford next Friday for the right to play in the 3AA state championship game.
Lee County, No. 7 in The News & Observer football poll, got five touchdown runs from Jahmir Smith. His final score, from 4 yards out, put the Jackets up 42-38 with 7:58 remaining. Smith finished with 182 yards on 26 carries.
The Cardinals had 409 yards on the ground, including 193 from running back Kijeir Finister and 159 from quarterback Jaicari Boone. Finister ran for two touchdowns, while Boone had one on the ground and one passing score.
A 27-yard, fourth-down flanker pass from Chris Coleman to Nijear Singleton put Jacksonville up 31-28 on the Cardinals’ first drive of the second half. Lee County then punted, but caught a break when Cardinals punter Justyn Benton fumbled a low snap and was tackled on the Jacksonville 7-yard line.
Lee County then went on top 35-31 on Smith’s 10-yard score.
After an exchange of turnovers, Finister scored from 15 yards out for a 38-35 Jacksonville lead with 10:59 remaining.
The first half was a track meet, with one tie and five lead changes before Lee County’s Smith scored his third touchdown of the first half, a 1-yard run with 2:27 to play that gave the Jackets a 28-24 lead.
Smith also scored on runs of 13 and 3 yards as Lee County ran for 176 yards in the first half.
Jacksonville ran the ball well, too, piling up 233 yards. Finister ran for 123 yards and a touchdown and Boone had 109 yards, including a 68-yard TD run.