South Central wins 20-18 thriller over Rose

South Central running back Jemere Artis breaks free for a big gain in the 2nd quarter in Friday night's game vs JH Rose. (photo by Bill Hudson)

By Mike Grizzard

For the second year in a row -- and second time ever -- South Central got to celebrate a win over county rival J.H. Rose. The Falcons needed some late-game heroics from one of their brightest stars on Friday to overcome their long-time nemesis and stay unbeaten.

In a playoff-worthy atmosphere complete with traffic jams, dueling bands and packed stands, South Central wrestled away a 20-18 win in the Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference opener when senior receiver Jeremy Lewis made a leaping 35-yard touchdown grab with 4:08 to go. Lewis, an East Carolina University recruit, also had a 7-yard touchdown catch in the first half.

“It came down to the kid made a play,” Rose head coach Dave Wojtecki said. “He’s going to play Division I football. He should make a play.

“I’m proud of our guys. We fought real hard. It’s tough. It’s tough to lose a tight one. You never know. A couple of calls here and there, maybe we could have done something a little differently.”

Costly penalties left Rose frustrated much of the night. The Rampants (3-2) were flagged eight times for 84 yards, including three holding penalties. One of those came on the opening drive when Rose reached the 10 but had to settle for a 24-yard Wesley Shade field goal.

Perhaps the most momentum-swinging call came with 6:56 to go and Rose clinging to an 18-14 lead. Quarterback Grant Charles Jarman zipped a 9-yard fourth-down pass to Shade on an out pattern for what appeared to be a first down at the Falcons’ 25, but an offensive face-masking penalty sent Rose back to the 41 and forced a punt.

“It seemed like any time we got any offensive momentum, there was a penalty,” Wojtecki said. “You can’t have those things. I’m sure we probably did hold or something like that, but those are drive killers. We talked a lot about we can’t have those drive killers.”

South Central, stymied the entire second half and coming off consecutive possessions with turnovers, started its winning drive at its 23. Junior quarterback Justin Humphries, limited to 18 yards on his first four carries, did the bulk of the damage. He broke free on a 25-yard run to convert a third down and likely would have scored if not for a touchdown-saving tackle by Silas James.

A 15-yard run by Humphries moved the Falcons to the 35, then he floated a pass to Lewis just over the fingertips of James for the go-ahead score.

“I jumped and I jumped too early,” James said. “I was within an inch of the ball, and he caught it. He’s a very good player. I’ve just got to improve on my individual skills.”

Rose picked up one first down on its next possession but then turned the ball over at its 30 when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete. The Falcons took over with 2:53 to go and drained the remainder of the clock, converting a fourth down on a 7-yard run by Nazir Monroe-Smith.

“That’s something we needed to do,” South Central head coach Andy Tew said of his team’s comeback win. “We’ve played some tough games, some good competition up to this point, but we haven’t really been down late in a game. To do it like this in our first conference game, to come back when their backs are up against the wall. They could have dropped their heads, but they decided to come out and do a good job and win the football game.”

Each team scored on its first two possessions before the defenses seized command. Humphries finished just 7 of 21 for 112 yards with one interception. Jarman completed his first five passes but finished 12 of 27 for 125 yards and one interception.

Rose overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit with an impressive 13-play, 71-yard drive. A 12-yard pass from Jarman to Zane Noles converted one third down, the Grant Humphreys rambled 13 yards to the 17. Humphreys churned out six yards on fourth-and-1 from the 8, then barreled in from the 2. Shaquan Perry’s two-point run made it 18-14.

A three-and-out series and interception by James on the next two series protected the lead until Lewis gave the Falcons reason to celebrate.

“Defense the second half I thought did a great job,” Wojtecki said. “That big, long pass and the two quarterback runs there at the end is really the only things they had going for them. We made a few adjustments and did a great job there. We’ve just got to prepare for the next game.”

Rose will host Charles B. Aycock next Friday.

“It’s really tough to come out here without getting a win,” James said. “We came in very confident. That don’t stop us from going on to the next game. That don’t stop us from going to the playoffs. We’re still going to keep moving We going to get this behind us and keep moving to the top.”

Mike Grizzard of Winterville has more than 30 years of experience as a writer for both print and digital publications in the areas of sports, business, news, faith and personal profiles. Contact Mike at 252-916-4206.