There were enough happy tears flowing at Green Hope to keep the grass green through winter.
The Falcons – after a 10-year title drought that included winless seasons and years in high school football’s badlands – claimed the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference championship with a 17-10 defeat of rival Panther Creek.
“We put a lot of hard work in, and look at this,” quarterback Luke Massei said, turning to where hundreds of students had just rushed the field a minute earlier. “No one ever imagined we would be here right now. It just shows the hard work we put in. We’re not even close to over, we’ve got to make a run at the playoffs now.”
When coach Kwame Dixon took over the program, and this year’s seniors were incoming freshmen, the Falcons had the state’s longest losing streak at 38 games. The emotions of those seniors ran high as they described the work it took to make the turnaround become complete.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“They’re the ones who had to believe what I was teaching was worth learning,” Dixon said. “I came in with a lot of enthusiasm and experience and not from the area. But if they didn’t want to be conference champs – if they didn’t want to put in the work – hopefully we would still be celebrating, but not as conference champs.
“It’s great that I’ve been at the helm of this ship for the last four years, but the engine is certainly the senior class.”
It wasn’t always pretty on Friday for Green Hope (9-2, 6-1) – which already was assured of its third straight trip to the playoffs and first winning season since 2004. The Falcons had four turnovers.
However, its defense – which forced three turnovers – stood tall against Panther Creek (9-2, 6-1), thus snapping its nine-game win streak. The Catamounts will have to accept the SWAC’s No. 2 seed.
Green Hope led 10-7 at half while holding the Catamounts to 46 yards of offense (148 for the game).
“Once again the defense did a great job when they had to,” Dixon said.
In the third quarter, Massei found Ford on a screen pass in the middle of the field. Ford used his blockers to bolt to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
Panther Creek, which added a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter by Phillip Stone, drove the ball inside the 10 but was turned away with 1:13 remaining.
“For Coach Dixon to come back here every day and work hard and keep on telling us we’re going to do it – that this year was going to be our year I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” Ford said.
Ford capped off the Falcons’ first drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown to go up 7-0. An interception by Panther Creek linebacker Matt Mitchum set up the Catamounts at the 1, where Addison Pinkney was successful on his third rushing attempt from the spot to tie the game at 7.
Green Hope’s Nolan Paussa tacked on a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Ford and Troy Maslowski had interceptions for Green Hope. Panther Creek’s interceptions were by Quran Moon, Matt Mitchum and Dallas Hancock.