Cats’ season ends with playoff loss
Last minute play pushes South Pike past GCHS in 4A thriller
By RUSSELL TURNER
Greene County High School’s storybook football season came to an end Friday night at South Pike.
Several turnovers and 115 yards in costly penalties plagued GCHS in the game. But in the end, it was South Pike’s sophomore quarterback Dontavious Turner that was the real difference. Turner threw for 118 yards and three touchdowns and ran 114 yards and two more TDs to upend GCHS and send the Wildcat faithful home disappointed and wondering what could have been.
“It is disappointing,” first year head coach Mike King said. “I thought both teams played with a lot of heart. It just felt like it was going to go down to whoever had the ball last was going to be the winner.”
“We had the ball last, but just didn’t have enough time. We had our chances, but just weren’t able to pull it out.”
The South Pike fans were there in big numbers and were loud and very much into the game. Greene County fans, despite the nearly 2.5 hour drive, showed up in big numbers as well. So, to say atmosphere in the town of Magnolia was electric would be an understatement and King believes that could have played into his team’s second loss of the year.
“You know, that was a very difficult environment for our kids to play in. It was cold and damp, the opposing fans were loud and the long drive over didn’t help either. I am not making excuses. We still had our chances, but the environment was definitely not in our favor.”
“I think overall the stage was a little big for the inexperience of our guys. I think it impacted us a little.”
Despite numerous obstacles, the resilient Wildcats were in a position to get their 12th win and advance to a matchup with East Central. They had marched 77 yards to take a 25-24 lead with three minutes left in the game and appeared to have the Eagles right where they wanted them – facing third down and 13-to-go from their own 40-yard-line. But, Turner broke containment on a pass play and scrambled his way 60 yards past one Wildcat player after another to steal the win and extend his team’s season.
“South Pike never showed any signs of quit and neither did our guys,” King said. “It was a heck of a game. We just came out on the wrong side of it in the end.”
A turnover on the Cats’ first possession set up the Eagles at the GCHS 48. Four plays later, Turner made a great read on a zone read-play, pulled the handoff away from his running back, and scampered past several would-be tacklers for a 40-yard TD run. The conversion failed, but Turner and company took an early 6-0 lead.
The Wildcats answered with a 12-play scoring driver to tie the game. Santez Moody capped the 65-yard march with a 4-yard run, but the PAT failed, knotting the score at 6-6 with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
A big defensive play by sophomore Jaheim Cooper set up the Cats’ next score. Cooper burst through the line of scrimmage to drop an Eagle running back on fourth down and give GCHS the ball at its own 47. Eleven plays later, senior quarterback Derrick Grice found his way into the endzone for a 4-yard TD run. The PAT by Tagg Creech put the Cats ahead for the first time with just six seconds left in the first half.
The big momentum swing at the end of the second quarter was short-lived as South Pike got a big kickoff return down to the GCHS 30 to start the second half. On the very next play, Turner found junior Deldrionn Amos for a 30-yard strike to close the gap to 13-12 with just 18 seconds off the third quarter clock.
South Pike retook the lead a few minutes later after intercepting a Grice overthrow at the GCHS 22-yard-line. A couple plays later Turner found classmate Alex Adams open across the middle for a 12-yard TD strike. The 2-point-conversion failed, but with 9:31 remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles were back on top 18-13.
“They really stole the momentum from us,” King said of South Pike’s hot start in the third quarter. “We had gotten the big drive to score right before halftime, but they came back out and got some big plays to retake the lead.”
“I have to credit my team though. They never quit. They continued to battle.”
As was their style all season, GCHS did battle back. A 37-yard run by Grice on the Wildcats’ next possession put GCHS in business at the Eagle 9-yard-line. Senior Kyemonte Walker took it from there, turning a short shovel pass into a 9-yard touchdown reception. GCHS wanted to go for two to make it a 3-point lead, but confusion on the next play resulted in a delay of game penalty and Grice’s pass into the back of the endzone bounced off the pads of his intended receiver. Still, GCHS had reclaimed the lead at 19-18 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter.
An interception by senior Garrett Hicks set the Cats up in great field position just a few minutes later. Unfortunately, a couple of penalties pushed GCHS back into their own territory and put the Wildcats in a definite passing situation. South Pike took advantage and intercepted a deep pass by Grice and returned it back across midfield. A few plays later, Turner scrambled away from pressure and found Amos for a 32-yard TD strike. The conversion failed, but the Eagles held a 24-19 lead with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
Greene County, though, appeared to answer once again. A nice drive took the Cats down to the Eagle’s 1-yard-line, but after Grice was stopped just short of the endzone, a GCHS lineman drew a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The questionable call, pushed Grice and company back 15 yards, and on the very next play the Eagles forced a fumble and recovered it inside the GCHS 10.
After forcing a punt, GCHS marched 77-yards to go back on top. Creech broke free for a 19-yard TD run on the sixth play of the drive, and although the conversion failed, the Wildcats led 25-24 with just over three minutes to play.
After Turner’s improbable run, GCHS had just over a minute to answer. Unfortunately, miscommunication on the kickoff, put the Cats in a deep hole with little time to play with. They worked their way out near midfield, but a last second, double pass attempt fell incomplete to end the game.
In a game loaded with big plays, South Pike made the biggest. Greene County did have several missed opportunities that could have impacted the outcome, which makes the loss a little harder to swallow. But, in the end, King and his team have plenty to be proud of.
“I don’t think our team overachieved, because I believe these guys played up to their ability,” King said. “But, going 11-2 did exceed anything I had planned or even dreamed in our first year in the program.”
“I’ve been asked about the success we had this year a lot and it is really hard for me to take too much credit. I was blessed to have a tremendous coaching staff and I inherited a group of young men that were hungry and very capable. I am very proud of all of these guys and looking forward to getting to work preparing for next season.”