Green Hope benefited from two wild defensive touchdowns, but it was two old-fashioned defensive stands in the fourth quarter that saved the No. 14-ranked Falcons from an upset loss Friday night in their Southwest Wake Athletic Conference opener.
Green Hope scored 14 points on defense and quarterback Luke Massei added three touchdown passes to lift the Falcons (4-1, 1-0 SWAC) to a 35-33 win over Athens Drive (1-4, 0-1 SWAC) at the Falcons’ field.
The first of the two defensive stops in the final four minutes was a blocked 37-yard field goal by Green Hope safety Troy Maslowski with 2:48 left in the game.
“I told the guys I was blocking this one,” said Maslowski, who also had an interception. “I was able to get through off our end.”
But Athens Drive got the ball back after an interception at its 39-yard line. The Jaguars drove to the Green Hope 20-yard line before a penalty pushed them back and they ran out of time. Earlier in the series, Maslowski came across from midfield to break open a pass at the 10-yard line that might have gone for a touchdown.
“We knew we had to keep them in play to keep the clock in running,” Maslowski said. “We made sure we kept them in front us, although they had a guy open and that was my fault.”
Green Hope linebacker Will McClain accounted for 14 points in the third quarter; he returned an interception 40 yards for a 28-19 lead and stripped the ball for a 74-yard fumble return for 35-26 lead.
“The strip surprised me more,” McClain said. “I didn’t know if he was down, but I just kept running with the ball.”
Athens Drive surprised Green Hope with a running game in the first quarter that set up Conor Gronbach’s 32-yard field for a 3-0 lead. The Jaguars bumped the lead to 10-0 on Barnes’ 68-yard punt return for a 10-0 advantage.
The Falcons averted disaster in the second quarter when their fourth-and-goal stop at the 1-yard line turned into a safety. Green Hope’s first-down running play from the 1 was stopped in the end zone to provide the Jaguars with a 12-7 lead.
After Green Hope punted, the Jaguars started from the Falcons’ 30-yard line and scored in six plays on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Brandan Farley to Jackson Wetherby. Only 3:21 remained when the TD gave Athens Drive a 19-7 lead, but that was enough time for Green Hope to score two touchdowns.
The Falcons moved six plays and 61 yards for a touchdown on a 4-yard TD toss from Massei to Matt Duckworth with 1:51 remaining the half.
Three plays later Maslowski picked off a tipped pass and returned it 36 yards to Athens Drive 24-yard line. Massei hit Duckworth with another 4-yard TD with 40 seconds for the Falcons’ first lead.