Things were rocky for the Falcons from the first whistle, but Green Hope stayed in the game and turned the tables in the third quarter to walk away with a 14-13 win Friday at Sanderson.
Green Hope fumbled the opening kickoff return, putting the Spartans on the 18-yard line seconds into the contest, and setting up a Brett Bollinger-to-Alim McNeill 3-yard touchdown pass to put Sanderson on the board early.
The Spartans defense continued to capitalize on Falcons miscues throughout the first quarter and early in the second, forcing turnovers – two interceptions by Sanderson freshman Trent Pennix and fumble recoveries by Daeqwan Bailey and Cole Nigro – on the first four Green Hope possessions.
Pennix snagged both interceptions in the first quarter, stopping two long strike attempts by the Falcons. He ran the second back more than 80 yards to the Green Hope 15, where he was tripped up and fumbled, but the ball was recovered by his teammate Quez Clark on the 9.
The Green Hope defense stood its ground, holding the Spartans to a 21-yard Walker Lozaw field goal, and did the same early in the second quarter when Nigro recovered a Falcons’ fumble on the Green Hope 20. That possession ended in a 36-yard field goal by Lozaw.
Green Hope managed to keep things close when Luke Massei found Javon Galloway streaking down the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown connection.
The score put the Falcons within one possession, down 13-7, entering halftime, giving life to a Green Hope team coming off of a last-minute win at Cardinal Gibbons last week.
“I told our offense we couldn’t play any worse,” Green Hope coach Kwame Dixon said. “We had turned the ball over so many times, probably more this game alone than we did most of the season last year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It was interceptions, it was fumbles, it was special teams. It wasn’t just one thing, but our game last week kind of showed us that if we can hang in there for four quarters, then we have a chance.”
Both teams struggled to get things going consistently in the second half, as they combined for 10 turnovers in the game.
It was a Sanderson fumble – the second on consecutive Spartans possessions near the end of the third quarter – that gave Green Hope the possession that would lead to the Falcons’ deciding score.
The Falcons recovered the Spartans fumble on their own 48, and Massei (20 of 35 for 225 yards and 2 interceptions) led Green Hope down the field, eventually finding Bryce Dixon on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining in the third.
Green Hope forced Sanderson punts on the next three Spartans possessions – including back-to-back three-and-outs – and Troy Maslowski came up with an interception with two minutes remaining to hold on for the Falcons to move to 2-0 on the season.
“Unfortunately there’s a history with Green Hope High School in poor football play, and I told them tonight that being a Falcon and being a Green Hope football player is good enough,” Kwame Dixon said. “I keep trying to instill that. It’s probably going to take more than just one little speech to get them to understand that, but that’s our goal. ... We can compete with anybody. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes it’s not, but we can compete.”
Sanderson, in its second season under head coach Ben Kolstad, fell to 0-2 after falling short on scoring opportunities late in the fourth quarter last week at Knightdale.
The Spartans were held to 160 yards of total offense to Green Hope’s 238.
“Our hats off to Sanderson,” Kwame Dixon said. “That was a hard fought game between two pretty committed football teams. We were just fortunate to come out with the win.”