Field Goal Try Goes Awry, Leads To Ouster
By AL MYATT
Triton seemingly deserved better than a 7-0 deficit after moving the ball 116 yards on its first two possessions in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A football playoffs on Friday night at Fike.
Momentum took a 180-degree swing after the Hawks had driven to the Golden Demons 19 before going for a 39-yard field goal on the first series.
The snap got away and Jaquan Applewhite took the loose ball 60 yards the other way as the hosts took a 7-0 lead. Fike eventually advanced with a 30-14 triumph.
“That was huge at the beginning,” said Hawks coach Ben Penny. “In a game like this, cold weather, you get a spark that early, you’ve got a lot of momentum and there are a lot of factors that can go against you, not just a 10-point swing.
“The environment, we couldn’t ever regroup from that. We tried. We kept fighting until the end. We just got behind early and that was huge, a huge factor in the outcome of the game.”
Triton (6-6) converted three times on third down and once on fourth down on its first series, taking eight minutes off the clock.
“Early on, I thought we moved the football,” Penny said. “We stalled out. We were kind of debating what we were going to do at the end of the first drive, whether we were going to kick it.
“I know the wind was blowing a little bit, but we were on the right hash, wind blowing left. Thought we were going to get a chance. That got us right there. They got the momentum. We just weren’t able to bounce back from it.”
The Hawks got a big chunk on their second series with a pass from Justin Leggett to Christion Green for 71 yards to the Fike 5. The opportunity unravelled with a holding call on the next snap and Triton lost possession following a pair of incompletions.
Green finished as Triton’s career catches leader and had a 58-yard punt in the third quarter.
Fike expanded its lead to 21-0 at the half with a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes from Jaelynn Melton to Porter Watson covering 36 and 5 yards.
The first scoring toss came off effective play action and Melton connected with his target on a slant for the shorter score.
“Defensively, we missed a few assignments,” Penny said. “I thought our game plan was sound, trying to take away what they do well.
“We just missed assignments, giving up slants, biting eyes in the backfield, just things like that that we work on, fundamentals of football — and all it took was a couple of big plays.”
Despite the deficit and chilly conditions, the Hawks were able to warm up in the second half.
“We’re going to challenge these guys,” Penny said. “We’re going to challenge these seniors, 24 minutes left — you play your best 24 minutes of football. Anything can happen. That was kind of what we were dealing with at halftime.
“We came out defensively. We had a big stop. We got in the end zone. We just ran out of time and gave up the big play at the end.”
De’Marius Staton completed a 50-yard drive with a determined 11-yard scoring run with 6:45 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-7 with Jose Ramos’ conversion kick.
The Hawks tried onside kicks on all three of their second-half kickoffs but none were successful.
Fike got a 21-yard field goal in the fourth by Walker Gliarmis, whose 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left yielded a 34-31 win at Triton on Sept. 22.
The Hawks missed a 34-yard field goal in the final period, but Staton recovered a Fike fumble at the Golden Demon 23 that led to a 5-yard scoring run by Jarrell Cowan with 4:26 to go, closing the gap to 24-14.
Triton made a defensive stop, but an interception was followed by a 49-yard scoring run by Fike’s Justin Daniels with 1:50 to go that eliminated hope for a Hawks comeback.
Fike Leads Stats
The big play late in the game helped the Golden Demons finish with a 259-226 lead in total yardage and a 13-12 edge in first downs.
Fike (9-3) travels to Western Alamance (12-0) in the second round.
Triton had some highlights in retrospect.
“We accomplished a lot of our goals,” Penny said. “We made the playoffs and, in my opinion, everybody’s goal is a state championship. That beats finishing with a .500 record in my book.”
The Hawks have some area bragging rights, but lose a significant senior class.
“Our three big rivals, we were able to win those three games this year, South Johnston, Harnett Central, Western Harnett,” Penny said. “That’s a big goal for us going into the season. I hate that it ended like it did, but I’m proud of this group, proud of the seniors.”
Triton’s junior varsity went 4-5-1.
“We’ve got a big senior class,” Penny said. “We’re going to need some guys to step up. That’s going to start here pretty soon.”
Jarrell Cowan (10) scores with 4:26 left to play to pull Triton within 24-14 at Fike on Friday night.
Daily Record Photo/Maggie Hobson