Even after he fumbled the ball away two possessions earlier, Tevin Perry was all but guaranteed a starring role in what would prove to be the most important drive of the season for the Bunn Wildcats.
“We rode Tevin this far,’’ said Bunn offensive coordinator Chris Lewis. “We weren’t about to stop now.’’
After his mistake helped East Duplin move ahead, Perry, a senior halfback, carried the ball five times in the decisive series, including a 28-yard touchdown run with 1:07 remaining that gave the host Wildcats a 36-29 comeback victory over the Panthers on Friday in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2AA playoffs.
Bunn (12-2), which has won 11 straight games, will be at home again next Friday to tangle with Clinton in the East final. This will be the second state semifinal appearance in coach David Howle’s storied tenure with the Wildcats, and the first since 2005.
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“It means so much to do this for coach Howle,’’ said Bunn senior quarterback Quenten Wright. “He has been here so many years – he deserves this. We just needed to pull it out.’’
The Wildcats scored on their first two possessions of the second half to move ahead 28-14 – only to see the Panthers (10-4) respond with a pair of scores of their own, the second of which came after Perry’s giveaway.
Four plays later, Chris Benson dove in from the 1, and Ty Blizzard followed with the PAT to give East Duplin a 29-28 advantage with 7:52 remaining.
After a Bunn punt, the Wildcats defense stopped East Duplin one yard short of a first down, forcing the Panthers to punt the ball away.
Taking over at their own 20 with 4:06 left – and with the season on the line – Bunn offered Perry a shot at redemption, and he was more than happy to capitalize.
The Wildcats picked up five first downs and moved into field-goal range. but Bunn wasn’t about to stop there. Lewis vividly remembered how the Wildcats lost two playoff contests over the past 15 years by missed field goal attempts on the final play.
So Bunn called on Perry one more time, and he went in off the left side to put the Wildcats ahead for good. Omar Rosa tacked on a 2-point run to give Howle’s club a seven-point cushion.
“I felt like I let the team down when I fumbled,’’ said Perry, who finished with 138 yards on 20 carries. “It feels great to get a second chance. I was down for awhile, but my teammates came and picked me up. We just had to trust our offense.’’
East Duplin had one last chance, but the Panthers ran out of time at the Bunn 26 following an incomplete pass.
“No doubt, this is one of the biggest wins of my career,’’ said Howle, who has served as Bunn’s head coach for 24 years. “It seems like you have to win a game like this along the way. What a game.’’
Since his club’s last “final four” appearance, Howle has retired and unretired, rejoining the Wildcats in 2013 after his son, Ty, graduated from Penn State after lettering for four years.
“We went to Reidsville and lost back in 2005, and I wondered if I would ever get back that far,’’ Howle said. “Not only are we doing that again, but we will be at home, which will be a first. It’s pretty amazing that we are going back.’’