Raiders fall short

Great game Saturday. Here’s my story…

By RANDY CAPPS, Dispatch Sports Editor

WINSTON-SALEM – Less than four minutes into Saturday’s 2AA State Championship game, Shelby was in front of Southern Vance 14-0.

Yet Southern had the defending champion Golden Lions right where it wanted them.

The Raiders rallied and led in the third quarter before falling behind again en route to a 27-24 defeat.

It was a game that saw Shelby quarterback Darryl Montgomery leave on a stretcher in the first quarter, only to return to the field and win the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

The win was the 21st in a row for Shelby (16-0) and marks the Lions’ second-consecutive state title. The Raiders finish their season at 13-3.

“Our kids played well,” Southern Vance coach David Jennings said. “They fought hard. I’m proud of them.”

The Raiders indeed went down swinging, but not before they got knocked to the mat themselves in the early going.

Shelby received the opening kickoff and scored on its first play from scrimmage, a 71-yard option keeper by Montgomery.

“I believe if you’re playing our offense you try to take away the fullback,” Shelby coach Chris Norman said. “That’s our first option. Darryl made a good read on the dive and they didn’t have anybody over the top on the quarterback. He was able to get in into the secondary and take it down there.”

Southern didn’t respond well on its first drive, turning the ball over on its first possession. Jamere Pugh, who was later named the Outstanding Offensive Player for the runners-up, fumbled on the third play from scrimmage.

Shelby recovered, but was kept off the scoreboard when Tyler Rabb’s 47-yard field goal try bounced off the crossbar.

The next drive wasn’t much better, ending on a three-and-out. To make matters worse, a five-yard punt helped the Lions set up shop on the Raider 31, and Shelby cashed in two plays later on another Montgomery keeper, this time from 30 yards out.

Pugh was picked off again on the Raiders’ next drive, and things seemed to be spinning out of control for Southern Vance.

Diral Burwell, the Outstanding Defensive Player for Southern, then turned the game on its ear, delivering a shot to Montgomery on a third-down play that drew the ire of the Shelby faithful and a personal foul on Norman for aruging about it. Montgomery was carted into the locker room, where he received five stitches under his right eye and was checked for a concussion.

“I didn’t really know what was going on until they got me in the locker room,” he said. “I was passed out, then I woke up and they started asking me questions. They asked me five numbers to remember – 1,7, 14, 21 and 28 – and they said if I could remember them, I could go back in.”

Before Montgomery’s unlikely return after halftime, the Raiders spent some time on one of their patented comebacks.

Late in the second quarter with the score still 14-0, Southern took over on its own 17 yard-line, and Pugh finally got into a rhythm. The junior quarterback completed passes to Sam Faulkner and O’Darren Gill on the drive before calling his own number on a quarterback draw, cutting it to the left sideline and outrunning the Shelby secondary for a 65-yard touchdown.

A two-point conversion try was no good when Pugh’s pass to Theo Perry sailed high, and it was 14-6.

The Raiders went for two after its first three scores before missing an extra point on its fourth try.

“Our kicking game has been struggling the past few weeks,” Jennings said. “So, when we game planned this week, we decided that we’d go for two. We worked on our two-point plays this week. We just didn’t execute them.”

Kicking woes aside, the “Cardiac Raiders” were just getting started.

After a fumble by Shelby’s backup quarterback Howard Thompson, Southern took over on the Golden Lion 41 with just over a minute left in the first half.

That would be more than enough time for the Raiders, as Pugh would hook up with David Person down the left sideline on a 39-yard scoring strike, and the second missed conversion left the score at 14-12 at the break.

Montgomery came out with the Lions to start the third quarter, but he could only watch while Southern took the lead in its first-ever state title game.

A five-play, 68-yard march ended with another Pugh-to-Person strike against Shrine Bowl cornerback Preston Roseboro – this one from 24 yards out – for an 18-14 lead.

Montgomery then brought Shelby out onto the field to a huge roar from the Shelby fans, giving the defending champions a lift.

“They got a lot of energy when No. 12 came back,” Jennings said of Montgomery’s return. “It was an emotional lift for them when he came back, because I thought they got a little flat when he went out.”

The two teams swapped punts and Shelby took over at the Southern 27. Arsenio Parks – a Shrine Bowler at fullback and Shelby’s Outstanding Offensive Player – scored on a third-and-three play from the 20 yard-line to put the Lions back in front. The senior, who finished with 124 yards and two scores, also credited his quarterback’s return with the team’s inspired play.

“We had faith in Howard,” he said. “But we knew Darryl was the better man for it.”

Southern stalled on its next drive, and Shelby kept the ball until early in the fourth quarter when Parks scored again on a third-and-short play from 15 yards away. A missed point-after try made it 27-18, and the Raiders were down two scores again.

For exactly 18 seconds.

That’s how long it took for Shelby to kickoff, Southern to receive and for Pugh to toss his third touchdown pass of the day – a 65-yard screen and run to Mark Ellis – to trim the lead back to three at 27-24.

Shelby seemed to be heading in for a score on its next drive, only to watch as Larry Raper, one of three Shelby backs with more than 100 yards rushing, fumble on the Raider one-yard line after a hit from Donald Robinson. Gill was there for the recovery, and Southern dodged a bullet.

Unfortunately, Pugh and company weren’t able to move the ball the rest of the way, posting three-and-outs on their next two drives.

The game, however, was still in doubt before Raper gained 15 yards on a fourth-and-seven play with just over a minute left to seal the win.

Losing the game, of course, was disappointing for Jennings and his team. But the coach was already looking to the big picture after the contest.

“The kids are already saying ‘we’ll be back,’” he said. “When they left the field, they were saying ‘we’ll be back.’ It should be simple getting the guys up here for workouts this summer. I’m proud of the guys, I’m proud of our fans. We had a great fans. We fell short in a few areas. We didn’t win the game, but for my dollar, Southern Vance football is on the map.

“Overall, a great win for them and a heck of a high school football game.”

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