South pulls out game for the ages

Published 9:41 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

LEXINGTON – What an incredible, huge, gutsy, gritty upset win by South Davie’s football team. Everyone knew the Tigers were the underdog in last week’s game at Lexington, which pounded Ellis 26-0 in the Yellow Jackets’ first game. But South answered each Lexington touchdown with a TD of its own, turning it into a topsy-turvy game for the ages, and the Tigers emerged with a breathtaking 26-20 victory in overtime.

People were calling it the greatest middle-school football game they’ve ever seen. Feisty South would not go down for the count, even after failing to score from the Lexington 2-yard line in the first half and even when it trailed by six with 1:28 left in regulation as it faced 65 yards of real estate.

Lexington’s offense is explosive, capable of striking in a matter of seconds. The Tigers’ offense was methodical. Most of the time, they had to execute a series of plays to get in position to score.

“All of our scoring drives were long drives,” offensive coordinator Germain Mayfield said. “They were a quick-strike offense.”

Lexington scored first to take a 7-0 lead. South began a long drive at its 20. Alex Ratledge’s pass to Austin Shaver moved the sticks on fourth down. It was fourth-and-1 from the Lexington 2 with 1:29 remaining in the half when South called timeout. A run to the left side was stacked up by Lexington’s defense, and after working extremely hard to get the doorstep of the end zone, South had been denied. The half ended with the score 7-0.

“I thought we were in trouble,” Mayfield said. “The momentum was gone. We didn’t get anything out of that.”

The Tigers did not wilt. On their first possession of the third quarter, it was fourth-and-10 when Ratledge went up top to Evan Little, who caught the bomb and raced to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown. South tried to kick for two points, but it missed and Lexington maintained a 7-6 lead.

Lexington returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, and just like that, it was a seven-point game again at 13-6.

Again, South answered with a clutch drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. On fourth-and-5, Ratledge ran a bootleg pass, hitting Bryceson Cozart for a first down. M.J. Holleman busted a big run up the middle – with a 15-yard personal-foul penalty tacked on – and South was in the red zone. Shaver picked up three tough yards to the Lexington 1, but now it was fourth-and-goal.

The game was hinging on this next play. Mayfield caught the Lexington defense offguard with a pass. Ratledge play-actioned, rolled left and Jack Reynolds was wide open in the back of the end zone. The TD pulled South within 13-12 with the extra point pending.

“They kept biting, so I knew the cornerback was sitting flatfooted,” Mayfield said. “So we gave Alex a run-pass option. The cornerback bit on the run.”

South had a decision to make: Run or pass for one point, or attempt a kick for the lead. Left-footed Willy Moure, a seventh grader who kicks soccer style, trotted out. Shaver snapped the ball to the holder, Little, and Moure – wait for it – split the uprights with plenty of room to spare to give South a 14-13 lead with 7:13 to go. That’s big-time.

“He can flat-out kick it,” Mayfield said. “If we can get it on the tee, he can make it. I mean in practice he makes 35-, 40-yarders like it’s nothing. And he’s just a seventh grader. Two weeks ago, we got (David) Wooldridge to come down and spend some time with him.”

The Yellow Jackets roared past midfield. On fourth-and-13 from the South 36, Lexington’s quarterback rolled out. With defensive tackle Davy Marion chasing him from behind, he threw a pass that Shaver intercepted at the South 25.

It was far from over, however. South turned it over on downs at its 20 with 2:13 remaining. After Lexington lost two yards, it broke a 22-yard TD run. The one-point run was successful, and the Yellow Jackets led 20-14 with 1:28 left.

It appeared Lexington had put the game away. Believe it or not, the Tigers went 65 yards to force overtime. In fact, they reached the end zone in 58 seconds.

The march was sparked by a 25-yard pass to Reynolds. Ratledge spiked the ball at the Lexington 40 to stop the clock. Ratledge tried to hook up with Brooks Johnson, but it was incomplete. Johnson had not caught a pass to this point, but he would supply the oomph to nudge South past a major hurdle on the schedule.

On third-and-10, Ratledge rolled right to buy some time against heavy pressure. With two defenders closing in, he lofted the ball toward a crowd in the middle of the field. Darn if Johnson didn’t jump over two defenders and come down with it for a 20-yard gain to the Lexington 20.

“One guy ran the wrong route, so he brought the safety in there,” Mayfield explained. “I was like: ‘Oh no, he’s going to throw an interception.’ When Brooks comes down with it, I’m like: ‘Oh my gosh.’”

The next play was an incomplete pass. Holleman picked up four yards to bring up third-and-6. Johnson ran a slant route and hauled in an 11-yard reception to the Lexington 5. Ratledge spiked the ball with 34 seconds left. On second-and-10, Ratledge tossed a TD to a wide-open Little in the right corner of the end zone, producing a tie at 20 with 30 seconds left. Moure tried to win it right there, but the kick was blocked.

Not counting the spikes, Ratledge was four of six for 61 yards on the 65-yard drive, connecting with Reynolds, Johnson and Little. That’s stirring stuff.

Lexington got the ball first in overtime. South immediately jumped offside, setting up first-and-goal at the 5. Lexington completed a two-yard pass. On the next play, South’s defense bottled up the quarterback, who decided to heave a prayer just before going to the ground. Lenny Adame intercepted it.

“When we gave up their go-ahead touchdown, Lenny came off the field upset,” Mayfield said. “He was blaming it on himself. So for him to come up with that interception was just sweet.”

The Tigers secured the scintillating win on first down, with Shaver running through a gaping hole on the left side for 10 yards. Left tackle Marion, left guard Ben Norman, Holleman (who lined up at tight end), Little (who lined up at H-back) and receiver Reynolds paved the way.

“Jack’s block was perfect,” Mayfield said. “If you were going to teach somebody how to stalk block, that’s what you would show them.

“It was a read play, but Alex was supposed to keep it and go inside. But before the play, he told M.J. to block the guy down because he was going to give the ball to Austin, and he told Austin to stay outside.”

Notes: In an electric performance, Ratledge completed 10 of 15 passes for 202 yards. He also rushed for 50-plus yards. … South (2-0) has pulled out two thrillers, beating North Davidson 12-11 in the first game. … South beat Lexington for the fourth straight year.

Ellis drew first blood, but unbeaten Starmount rallied to beat the host Jaguars 14-8 on Sept. 16. The 3-0 Rams beat the Jags for the first time in four tries, avenging a 30-0 loss in 2014.

Ellis started strong, scoring on its first possession. Sam Hendrix took it in on a three-yard run. Hendrix and Julian Howard had productive runs on the drive, and Anthony Azar completed a key pass to Aidan Payne.

All the scoring was done in the first half. The Rams scored twice to take the 14-8 lead.

Ellis threatened late in the game. Azar scrambled and completed a fourth-down pass to Payne to the Starmount 20. But Starmount intercepted a ball in the end zone and went to victory formation to kill the rest of the clock.

Ellis (0-2) got good play from defensive linemen Kentrell Tatum, Jackson Wayne, Caleb Steele, Isaiah Saunders and Shaemarr Hairston. Linebackers Payne, Hunter Meacham and Jake Hill helped contain Starmount’s running game.

“We got better as a team and that’s what we keep stressing to our kids,” coach Johnny Hill said. “If we keep getting better and playing hard, we will continue to have a better chance to win.”

North Davie (1-0) had a bye last week.