Jordon Brown rushed for one touchdown and caught a long touchdown pass, leading Southern Durham to a 28-21 win over host Cleveland in the Eastern semifinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3AA playoffs.
Albert Teet returned a pair of punts for 90 yards and had the game-clinching interception as the No. 3 seed Spartans eliminated the No. 2 seed Rams from the playoffs for the second straight year.
Southern had defeated Cleveland 67-48 in a second-round matchup in Durham last season.
“All the big plays were huge, because at this point everything counts, because it’s all about advancing,” Southern coach Darius Robinson said. “Albert was all over the ball. Once he learned their rhythm and saw what they were doing, he made huge plays.”
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The Spartans (11-3) will host No. 13 Northern Guilford for the Eastern championship on Friday night.
Cleveland junior Caiden Norman completed 25 of 36 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was two good, well-coached football teams,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “They just came out with the win tonight. We didn’t score before halftime and gave up a big play and that was probably the difference. We played physical and we executed well on defense. It just wasn’t enough tonight.”
The Spartans led 12-6 at halftime, with Brown scoring one rushing touchdown and another on an 81-yard pass from Jalen Greene.
Cleveland (10-4) scored first with 59 seconds left in the first quarter, with Kenny White’s two-yard pass from Norman followed by a Lawson Lamm kick making it 7-0.
But the Spartans retaliated, as Brown scored from nine yards out to complete a two-play, 10-yard drive with 7:56 left in the half. The possession was set up by Teet’s 45-yard punt return.
“I just tried to be all over the field to help my team win the game,” Teet said.
Southern added its second touchdown on Brown’s 81-yard pass from Greene with 32 seconds left in the half.
The Spartans stretched it to 20-7 at 10:31 of the third, as Teet returned a punt 45 yards for a score and Greene hit Joey Strong on the conversion run.
But Cleveland fought back, cutting it to 20-14 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter on Patrick Jesequel’s seven-yard catch from Norman followed by Lamm’s conversion.
Southern stretched it to 28-14 with 5:28 left on backup quarterback Keywon Hayes’ 84-yard bomb to Jermaine Russell followed by Hayes’ conversion run.
Cleveland’s next drive ended when Teet intercepted a Norman pass at the Spartans’ 25.
The Rams scored with 35 seconds left on an 41-yard pass from Norman to Jaylyn Pearce and added the conversion kick, but the Spartans covered the onside kick.