Northern Durham’s Cinderella second half of the season finally came to an end, but it took a last-minute drive for D.H. Conley to survive with a 42-39 win Friday night on the Greenville school’s home field.
The Vikings (11-2) advanced to the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. Northern Durham, which started the season 0-5, won five of its final six and a first-round playoff victory to wrap up a 6-7 comeback effort.
“You can just look at this game and see how this was a team that kept fighting back,” said Northern Durham coach R.J. Wilson. “We thought we could have a good team and we got things worked out during the year. I’m very proud of the kids.”
Conley quarterback Holton Ahers ran for four touchdowns and passed for another. He finished the night 16 carries for 74 yards with TD runs of 1, 2, 44 and 14. His touchdown pass was a 36-yarder to C.J. Johnson for 28-10 lead midway throught the fourth quarter.
But it turned out the Knights still had some life in them, thanks to big plays from Jaylan Burton and De’Shi Atkins.
Northern Durham scored 22 fourth-quarter points to take a 39-35 lead with 2:59 to play. The Knights faced a fourth-and-1 from their 55 When Atkins broke off what was supposed to be a 1-yard plunge into a 55-yard TD run. The defense was leaning left and Atkins ran between the right guard and right tackle.
The Knights were in position for a dramatic comeback win thanks to two spectacular returns by Burton.
The first was a 45-yard punt return when Conley was forced to kick out of its end zone.
Burton waited as if he was going to let Conley down the ball on the left hash mark before he suddenly picked up the ball and scooted to his right. He found an opening down the right sideline to trim Conley’s lead to 28-24 with 10:36 to play.
Conley mounted a scoring drive on Ahers 14-yard TD run, but Burton struck again on the ensuing kickoff. He took the ball in the middle of the field at the 10-yard line and found another lane down the right sideline, outrunning the defenders to the end zone.
Domineke McNeil led North Durham on the ground with 11 carries for 158 yards. He scored on an 18-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion.
Quarterback Luke Fenlon finished the night completing 11 of 26 passes for 108 yards with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Johnathan Branch.