Southern Nash and South Johnston, unbeaten through the first three weeks of the football season, staged a classic duel Thursday night.
The two slugged it out in a game with twists and turns throughout. In the end, it came down to a two-point conversion try in overtime.
South Johnston’s defense, which had been stunned by 14 Southern Nash points in the final 26 seconds of the game to force overtime, rose to the occasion this time. The Trojan defense — led by Josh Bunch — stopped Lorenzo Sessoms a foot short of the goal line to pull out a 41-40 non-conference victory.
The 4-0 start is the first of its kind in South Johnston’s school history.
“That’s our players,” South Johnston coach Hunter Jenks said of his team being able to regroup after the stunning comeback by Southern Nash. “They really fight and they fight together. That’s just the fortitude of our players.”
Southern Nash (3-1) had scored with 26 seconds left on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Zack Foster to cut the lead to 34-26. The point-after was blocked.
The Firebirds lined up for an onside kick and recovered the ball on the South Johnston 47 but still had to come up with eight points in 19 seconds.
Foster, who passed for 276 yards, completed passes of 23 and 9 yards to get the Firebirds to the 15-yard line with one second left in regulation. He completed a 15-yard TD pass on the game’s final play to make it 34-32. Sessoms ran in the 2-point conversion and it was on to overtime.
South Johnston scored first on a hard-nosed 2-yard run by Caeleb Robinson and the point-after made it 41-34.
Southern Nash came back on a 4-yard TD run by Sessoms, who also got the call on the 2-point try but came up short.
“It came down to more than that one play,” Southern Nash coach Brian Foster said. “Turnovers hurt us and we dropped a touchdown pass in the first half. But our kids are resilient. They fought hard and showed a lot of class.
“(South Johnston) was just one point better tonight.”
The final play. Sessoms had been hard to stop but South coach Jenks called a timeout after he saw the Firebirds’ formation for the 2-point try. He moved an extra defender to the side that he expected Southern to attack and the trio of Dalton Willliams, Josh Bunch and Robinson were there to stop Sessoms just short of the goal line.
“It was something we had seen in their tendencies,” Jenks said. “We bumped a defender over to that side.”
They said it
“To beat a team the caliber of Southern Nash is huge,” Jenks said. “They are very talented. To beat team like Southern Nash in September is a huge win for us, a huge win.”
Three who mattered
South Johnson’s Kavante Johnson: The junior running back rushed for 152 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown in a workhorse effort for the Trojans.
South Johnston’s Caeleb Robinson: Scored on touchdown runs of 13 and 28 yards in regulation and turned what looked a loss into the 2-yard touchdown in overtime.
Southern Nash quarterback Zack Foster: The senior was unflappable in the late going when the Firebirds staged their miraculous comeback. On the final play of regulation, he rolled to his left, was hemmed in and then threw the ball back across the field for the 15-yard touchdown that helped the Firebirds force overtime.
Thursday night’s game was a rematch of the uber classic that was the 2009 NCHSAA 3AA Eastern Regional Championship game, which outdid the 2015 edition by a pair of overtimes. South Johnston won that one as well, 33-32, in triple overtime.