Rocky Mount’s football team finally ran out of comebacks.
It ran out of both the standard kind, won with grit and determination that a month ago pulled out a first-round playoff victory, and the miracle type that was last week’s triumph in three overtimes.
Belmon’s South Point High (12-4) came from behind for a 16-7 win over Rocky Mount (13-3) in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state championship game before 2,947 fans with an 11:05 a.m. kickoff Saturday at Wake Forest’s BB&T Stadium.
A year ago, the Gryphons came from behind to force a tie and beat South Point 24-21 in overtime. This time the Red Raiders were the comeback kids from a 7-3 halftime deficit to prevent Rocky Mount from claiming back-to-back 3A titles.
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“I don’t hang my head about that,” Gryphons coach Jason Battle said. “Our season could have ended last week. I’m thankful we made it this far, and we had this opportunity. I think about things bigger than the win or loss on the scoreboard. My kids might never had chance to play (in a college stadium) again.”
Nick Muse, South Point’s leading tackler, now knows the low of a state championship loss and the thrill of a state title victory.
“After the game I looked over at every single Rocky Mount players’ face, and I saw the same pain we felt last year,” Muse said. “I told five or six of their players they were blessed last year, and we were this year. Last year we were them.”
At halftime of the defensive struggle, South Point had 28 plays for 78 total yards and Rocky Mount 25 for 77.
Rocky Mount was without a first down on its first six possessions of the opening half until putting together a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive for a 7-3 lead with 14 seconds left in the first half. Rocky Mount senior quarterback Shabio Lynch hit Shyheim Battle over the middle on third-and-10. Battle broke a tackle at the 5-yard line to find the end zone.
The Gryphons converted their initial first down of the game on a fourth-and-1 play that B.J. Daniels-Sanders broke off for 25 yards. He broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage and then got wide. The second first down was a third-and-10 pass from Lynch to Charlie Williams III to the 25.
But South Point started the second-half comeback with the kickoff. Red Raiders senior Max Mead returned it 52 yards to the 32, but Rocky Mount’s Sherrod Greene-led defense forced South Point to settle for a field goal and 7-6 deficit.
“Big 44 (Greene) is a great player,” South Point coach Mickey Lineberger said. “He had a dang field day. They have a great defense.”
But two players later Rocky Mount fumbled at its 23-yard line. South Point scored on a 7-yard pass from junior Scottie Lee to Ray Grier, a 6-foot-2, 182-pound freshman, for a 13-7 lead.
Rocky Mount still trailed 13-7 midway through the fourth period when the Gryphons needed a miracle. They went for a first down on fourth-and-17 from their 26, but Lynch was sacked.
“I felt like at that point in time they were going to chew the clock up anyway,” Battle said of the gamble. “We hadn’t been getting them off the field. We had bad or awful field position all day. At that moment I felt that was it.”
Six snaps later South Point made it a two-score game with Thomas Lempereur’s 25-yard field goal with 3:06 to play.
The two teams’ reversal of facial emotions could soon be read.