Last-second touchdown lifts North Stanly to playoff win

Published 11:40 am Saturday, November 4, 2023

The North Stanly football program has had 18 coaches in its 62 seasons of existence. Of those, four coaches have led their team into the playoffs: Dick Gresham, Ralph Jackson, Scott Crisco and current head coach Chad Little.

Gresham led North to its first appearance in the playoffs in 1993, where the Comets lost to Randleman, 28-14. (Sports Editor’s Note: The preceding two paragraphs have been edited to reflect the correct information about the number of North Stanly football coaches who have reached the playoffs.)

While the playoff wins for Jackson and Crisco came in the previous 1AA expanded playoffs, none of the wins came in the 2A classification, which the Comets are in this season.

In a game which saw several lead changes, the Comets can say they have now won a 2A football state playoff game in a 34-32 home playoff victory Friday night against the T.W. Andrews Red Raiders.

North (8-3) took the opening kickoff and marched down the field to score in the first four minutes of the game. Juice Lilly’s one-yard TD run put the Comets up 7-0.

The Comets went up two scores later in the first when Dylan Poplin hauled in a seven-yard Chance Blake pass to put the hosts up 14-0.

T.W. Andrews (6-5) caught up in the second quarter and pulled within one point. Quarterback Devin Hackstall found Sultan Divens in the middle of the field for a 27-yard TD pass with just under six minutes to play.

Hackstall later connected on a 56-yard strike to Ja’Neil Harris in the final seconds of the first half to pull to 14-13.

The Red Raiders took the team’s first lead of the night on special teams. A punt which appeared to be on its way past two Raiders returners was picked up off the bounce by Correy McManus Jr., who returned it 64 yards for the touchdown and a 20-14 advantage.

Trailing by six on the first play of the fourth, North scored and set off a final period which saw the lead change hands several times. Jay Jackson powered the football over the goal line from one yard out to tie the game, but the extra point curled wide left, leaving the score 20-20.

Following a missed 35-yard field goal by the Raiders, North retook the lead on Blake’s 77-yard touchdown pass to Connor Lupole. Noah Carter’s extra point put the Comets up 27-20.

Seconds later, Hackstall connected with Harris down the visiting sideline for a 58-yard TD pass. The extra point hit off the left upright, leaving North ahead 27-26.

However, after stopping the Comets on defense, the Red Raiders took the lead on a four-minute drive down the field. Hackstall scrambled to his left on third and goal from just inside the five yard line and put the visitors back on top 32-27. The two point conversion failed as Jackson picked off a Hackstall pass in the end zone.

North faced 75 yards of field in front of it with just 1:07 on the clock and two timeouts.

“We have been working on our two-minute offense for the past couple of weeks in practice,” Blake said. “We knew we had a game plan going into the game if it got down there…our mentality was, ‘This game is not over. We’re going to finish it.’ ”

The Comets made their way down field on the drive, converting on fourth down with 48.4 on the clock. Blake then found Gavin Helms, who spun around and made the catch for 37 yards down to the Raiders 22-yard line.

Two plays later, Blake almost connected with freshman Nathan Helms in the end zone. The wideout caught the ball but was ruled to have not caught it in bounds.

With 25.7 on the clock, the Comets ran Lupole in motion, leaving Jaylen McKoy in a one-on-one situation with a Red Raiders defensive back.

“I knew I had to get it back for my team. They called my number and I had the opportunity…there wasn’t anything going to stop me from getting the ball. I had to get it,” McKoy said.

McKoy ran to the middle of the field, then switched to a flag pattern to the back left corner of the end zone and hauled in Blake’s pass for the touchdown.

T.W. Andrews tried one long hail mary pass, and a pass interference call gave the Red Raiders one final untimed down at the team’s 38-yard line. The Raiders threw short to McManus, and he was tackled near midfield to end the game.

“It’s our final year,” senior Connor Lupole said. “Knowing what we and this team have accomplished means a lot.”

Regarding the win, Little said, “we were tough in this game. We got our confidence back this week and had a good week in practice. It’s not over for us; that’s the biggest thing.”

Winning the school’s first 2A playoff game, Little added, “makes me emotional because I love this place. I love everything about it…I want to make sure we continue the legacy left to us.”

North Stanly will go on the road this Friday as the No. 9 seed to face No. 8 Brevard (9-2), The Blue Devils advanced with a 44-13 win versus Trinity.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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