Undefeated Orange made two key fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 14-7 Big Eight 3A victory over Northwood.
Trailing 14-7 with 2:20 left in the game, the Chargers mounted a last drive from their own 22. But Orange held senior star quarterback Ti Pinnix to three incompletions and a sack to take over possession with 1:49 left, allowing the Panthers (5-0) to run out the clock.
Northwood’s seven points were the fewest the Chargers have scored since a 28-7 defeat to Chapel Hill in 2012. The loss was Northwood’s second straight to Orange since joining the Big Eight Conference last year.
“Our defense played exceptional,” Orange coach Pat Moser said. “They bent but they didn’t break. They held firm to some big stands.”
Orange had just stopped Northwood (4-1) on its previous possession after the Charges advanced to the Panthers 10. But on 4th-down-and-3, Pinnix was again forced to throw an incompletion with 5:13 left in the game.
“Take those five minutes away and that’s the ball game,” Northwood coach Bill Hall said. “They came out strong and we were weak. These were two good football teams, and it’s hard to swallow.”
Orange scored 14 straight points within a three-minute span in the first quarter over a shell-shocked Northwood team.
Running back Eryk Brandon-dean scored on a 10-yard run just 3:27 into Friday’s game. Orange quarterback Garrett Cloer made it a two-touchdown lead by taking the Panthers 69 yards on five plays and sealing the deal with a 1-yard plunge with 5:18 left in the quarter.
But the Chargers – and their defense – regrouped.
Quarterback Ti Pinnix led Northwood on its best drive of the night of 79 yards that culminated with Pinnix hitting a wide-open Jared Worley for 36 yards with 3:04 still left in the first quarter.
The Chargers had a chance to tie the game right before the half after Worley’s 46-punt return put Northwood at the Orange 21. But the Panthers’ defense came up big, stopping running back Kadarus Rone at the 1-yard line on the fourth down with 15.5 seconds left.
“That stop was key,” Moser said. “But our missing a field goal in the third quarter was key, too, and it would have given us some cushion.
“These were just two really good football teams on a really good conference.”
Orange entered the game as the state’s No. 6 team in the Associated Press rankings of 3A schools. The Panthers also were rated No. 5 among all Triangle teams by the News & Observer, while Northwood was ranked No. 9 by the N&O.
The two rivals finished virtually tied everywhere but the scoreboard. Each made 12 first downs in the defensive struggle. Northwood finished with 254 yards of total offense, while Orange had 251.
Neither committed a turnover.