In a heated defensive battle on senior night, Harnett Central mustered up a few big plays late in the game to pull away and secure a 28-14 win against rival Triton.
The night began with much at stake, even if the team records didn’t reflect that to outsiders. Central was searching for its first winning season in nearly a decade, Triton senior running back Ro’Mello Cowan was playing for a potential school record, and of course, rivalry game bragging rights were on the line.
With so much to play for, Central head coach Matt Migliore praised his defense for rising to the occasion.
“Defensively, I thought we just controlled the line of scrimmage and they didn’t have an answer for it,” Migliore said. “As a whole, we’ve been a really good unit this year. Up front, those guys don’t often get a lot of credit as defensive linemen but I thought they won the game for us tonight.”
The Hawks began the game positively by stopping Central on the opening possession and marching down field after beginning the drive at their own 35 yard line. A few chunk plays later, Cowan cashed in the first score of the night, a 12-yard run up the middle. After a missed extra point, the Hawks held a 6-0 lead.
Not to be outdone by their rivals, the Trojans responded on the next drive. After running back Devin Perry broke off a huge run to set them up in Triton territory, quarterback Jaden Bryant eventually punched in a QB sneak run from the 1-yard line. Central took the lead after converting the extra point and the score stayed locked in at 7-6 until halftime.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Trojans extended their lead. Bryant connected with senior receiver Jackson Jones for 20 yards and notched a 14-6 lead with 5:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The Hawks tried to get Cowan going all night, and while he managed a few solid efforts and grinded out tough yards, they couldn’t find consistency. However, his playmaking senior teammate Travion Sanders had better luck.
Once he returned the ensuing kickoff to their own 48-yard line, Sanders broke free and gained 25 yards on a run and set up the Hawks in Central’s half of the field. From there, quarterback J.P. Petoletti connected with Sanders for a 19-yard score to bring Triton to within two points. Cowan converted a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14 heading into the final quarter of play.
The defensive effort was apparent for most of the night, and the fourth quarter was no exception until a secondary breakdown on Triton’s behalf led to arguably the play of the game.
The Trojans had the ball at their own 45-yard line after beginning at the 30. Bryant dumped a short pass off to Jones. Then, reminiscent of the play that led to Midway’s exciting comeback win against East Duplin a few weeks ago, Jones pitched the pass back to streaking senior receiver Everett Blake, who took the ball 55 yards for the go-ahead score. The roar from the crowd was dampened slightly after Triton’s senior Jalonte McNeill blocked the extra point attempt, but Central still held a 20-14 advantage with 6:33 remaining in the game.
Triton’s offense once again didn’t find much room on the next drive and consequently had to attempt a punt from their own territory. Senior kicker Cristian Delcid mishandled the snap and muffed the punt at the 30-yard line.
From there, Bryant connected with Jones on the first play and set up a first and goal from the 1. Bryant leaned in to the push of his offensive line and crossed into the endzone for the final score of the game. Perry followed that up with a 2-point conversion to put the finishing touch on the night and seal the 28-14 victory.
For Triton, Petoletti finished the game 5-of-12 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown. Cowan led the team in rushing with 20 touches for 58 yards and a touchdown. He ended his season 176 yards short of the Triton school record. Sanders had three receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Central’s Bryant completed 12-of-22 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Blake led the team in rushing with six attempts for 77 yards. Jones led all receivers with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Blake also added three receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The Trojans finish the season at 6-5 overall and 2-3 in the Tri-County 6 3A conference. This marks their first winning season since 2010.
“For a couple of years we’ve been talking about breaking the cycle,” Migliore said. “These guys never flinched, they believed everything we were selling them and everything we were teaching them. They weren’t going to be left unsatisfied. They had it in their mind and they finished the job.”
Triton ends its 2019 campaign with a record of 3-8 and 1-4 in the conference.
“Starting with our captains, it’s been a roller-coaster ride.” Penny said. “They won eight games as freshmen, playing some varsity football for us. Jalonte (McNeill) and Grayson (Bradham) especially have been a part of the varsity program for four years. Tray (Sanders) came along his sophomore year. Ro’Mello (Cowan) had one of the best years ever for Triton at running back. We have a highly intelligent group with a couple of our guys at the top of their class academically. I’m going to miss them and I look forward to following them the rest of their lives. They’re going to go on to do big things.”