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WENDELL — The momentum the Corinth Holders High varsity football team had been searching for all game against SouthWest Edgecombe lasted only a brief moment.
With less than a minute left, the 4-A Northern Athletic Conference Pirates punctuated a 66-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13, the comeback nearly complete after a long game of coming up short.
“We just executed what coach wanted to do,” Pirate quarterback Matt Cozart said of the score that tied the game with 1:03 left to play in an eventual 20-13 win for SouthWest. “We played our hearts out and just wanted to get the win.”
Though not for a lack of opportunities, the Pirates were held scoreless through three quarters on homecoming while the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Cougars built a 13-0 lead by the start of the fourth quarter.
The Cougars took a 7-0 lead at the half, with quarterback Ray Wooten connecting with Keishon Porter for a 15-yard touchdown through the air. Wooten finished 4-of-12 passing for 85 yards, the early touchdown and an interception.
At the end of the third quarter, SouthWest continued to advance its lead, taking a 13-0 lead on a short touchdown rush from running back Cortezz Jones with 1:24 in the quarter.
But then, with 11 minutes left to play, Corinth Holders got on the scoreboard by a 1-yard run from Cozart that had his team storming back. After forcing two fumbles out of the Cougars on their next two drives, the Pirates began driving again with the ball and the clock winding down.
At that point, the SouthWest defense that stopped the Pirates on downs twice inside the 10-yard line and another inside the red zone suddenly couldn’t stop Corinth Holders. The effects of 13 penalties for 136 yards appeared to be catching up to the visiting team as well.
By the time Jadyn Parker-Leslie tied the game at 13 on a 1-yard touchdown run, it looked like the Pirates had stolen away a victory in a quarter that the Cougars had worked the entire game to protect.
“When they scored — I ain’t even gonna lie — it shook us a little,” Jones said. “It didn’t overpower us.”
The ensuing go-ahead extra point seemed like a given. It wasn’t.
As placekicker Matson Daniels began his three-step approach toward the ball, inside linebacker Davis Wainwright broke through the protection and got his hand on the ball. Like a wounded duck, the ball richocheted off his hands and fell out of the sky, never making it to the end zone on a roll.
The proposition of a late lead for Corinth Holders never materialized.
“What a job blocking that extra point because it looked like we were about to go down 14-13 with less than a minute left and we blocked that extra point,” Southwest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “Plays like that energize your football team.”
Though his team was energized, SouthWest, by no means, had yet won the game.
The Cougars received the ball at their own 28 yardline with time running out. Two straight runs from Demari Mabry gained the team 30 yards and put the Cougars at midfield. A connection from Wooten to Jones put SouthWest inside the 25 with 30 seconds left in regulation.
Two plays later, Jones extended his body into the end zone with 4.1 seconds remaining. After a first half when he ran the ball seven times for 28 yards, he added two touchdowns and 83 more yards on the ground for 111 yards rushing on 20 carries. The last one of the night gave he and his team the victory.
“We came down, we came strong,” Jones explained. “We believed in ourselves.”
The score knocked the wind out of the Pirates. Receiving the ball at the 31 yard line with a Hail Mary opportunity to tie the, the Pirates could not convert.
SouthWest owned a slim 287-285 edge in total offense. The difference between the two teams was an eyelash, leaving Corinth Holders somber in the locker room, while the headaches would soon set in for the Cougar coaching staff that begins EPC play next week at North Pitt.
In the end, after a hard-fought game, SouthWest had the pleasure of the last word.
“We fought hard,” Jones said. “We played mental ball and we drove down the field and we scored. We believed in each other.”
Corinth Holders head coach Adam Khavari declined to speak with the Johnstonian News after the game Friday.