Green Hope had waited 10 years to host a football playoff game, and after Friday night’s 24-14 victory against Apex in the first round of the NCHSAA 4AA playoffs, the Falcons knew it had been worth the wait.
The Falcons had beaten the Cougars by nearly three touchdowns and piled on 484 yards in their first meeting two weeks ago, but this time third-seeded Green Hope had to hold on despite leading 21-0 at halftime.
Green Hope (10-2) will play Panther Creek in the second round.
Apex (5-7) was playing its first postseason game since 2008. The Cougars scored twice in the second half, the first culminating a 16-play, 96-yard drive in the third quarter.
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Quarterback Luke Massei led the Falcons with 179 yards passing. He also threw two touchdown passes to Daniel Gretsch in the first half. The first was on a 24-yard post with 8:42 left in the first quarter, and the second came on a 6-yard fade midway through the second quarter that put the Falcons ahead 21-0.
Massei’s second touchdown pass came after Apex was penalized for roughing the punter.
Ridge Ford scored the Falcons’ second touchdown on a 1-yard run to end the first quarter.
“This feels good, our first time winning in the playoffs in years,” said Ford, who rushed for 72 yards. “We worked and prepared so hard. We knew what Apex could do, but our coaches really had us ready.”
Green Hope coach Kwame Dixon came to the school four years ago and helped turn around a program that had been mired in losing seasons.
“We didn’t know how the kids would respond to the first home playoff game in a long time, the cold weather, all that, but they came out fast against a formidable opponent in Apex,” Dixon said. “Our defensive staff did a great job preparing our kids to contain a great talent like (Isaiah) Totten, and our quarterback (Massei) played well and made this ship run.”
Ultimately turnovers damaged the Cougars’ hopes. Apex committed three, including two interceptions. Troy Maslowski and Ford each picked off passes in the first half.
Green Hope played a turnover-free game, and although its offense was not as effective in the second half, the Falcons still put together a drive to set up Nolan Paussa for a clutch 35-yard field goal that made the score 24-7 with 5:20 left in the game.
Cougars quarterback Grayson Boyd ran for a 10-yard touchdown and threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Totten late in the game.