South Central's Cydney Williams hauls in a 30-yard touchdown pass in Friday night's second-round playoff game. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dail)
By Mike Grizzard
There’s no other way to describe how South Central’s best season in school history came to an end on a frigid Friday night in the second round of the Class 4-A state playoffs.
Despite an NCHSAA ban of its students, cheerleaders and band from attending the game and with its starting quarterback and running back sidelined, the top-seeded Falcons stood two seconds away from advancing when South View scored on a chaotic final play for a 33-32 victory, leaving emotionally drained players from both teams sprawled out on the damp, cold turf.
The top-seeded Falcons (11-1) scored on a 1-yard run by Nazir Monroe-Smith with just 1:23 to play to take their third and final lead in a thrilling second-half duel that featured four lead changes, but the Tigers (11-2) had one last answer.
Quarterback Donovan Brewington, who had just 89 passing yards before the final possession, launched a 60-yard strike to talented 6-3 receiver Emery Simmons to put South View at the Falcons' 9-yard line.
After a 3-yard gain and a penalty, the Tigers faced a second-and-goal from the 11 with no timeouts and just 17 seconds left. Brewington was stuffed at the 4 on a keeper, and the Tigers scrambled to get to line up when officials stopped the clock because defensive tackle Phillip Chen’s helmet came off during the play.
The stoppage enabled South View to draw up a play with two seconds showing, and the result was nothing short of stunning. Brewington took the snap in shotgun formation and pitched to his right running back Matthew Pemberton, who flipped the ball to Simmons just as he was leveled by South Central defensive end Jeremy Lewis. Simmons scrambled to his left and as he was being hit heaved a pass to the middle of the end zone where sophomore Joshua George was waiting to make a leaping grab.
Exhilaration erupted on one side, devastation on the other.
“The last play was a little bit astounding, if you will,” South Central head coach Andy Tew said. “The first thing you think is, ‘Well, we’ve got them on the ground,’ and then he’s scrambling around. Then we get a chance to get him again, and he lobs it up in the end zone, and (George) just went up and brought it back down.”
Simmons, who had five catches for 86 yards and an interception, said the play called for a pitch to him but then he had to improvise.
“The plan was to pitch to me,” he said. “Matt kind of got hit, and he bumbled it and stumbled into me. I just tried to extend the play and make something happen, and luckily I saw one of my guys in the back of the end zone and I was hoping and praying that ball got there in time before the South Central defender got there.”
The Falcons, who fell in the third round of the playoffs at Scotland County last year, saw their season end at home this year on a night when their fans, cheerleaders and band were not permitted to attend because of a post-game fight at D.H. Conley three weeks ago. Parents and school staff did their part to provide a home-field advantage by forming a line for the team to enter before the game then filling the section where students typically sit.
Across the field, South View resembled a mini-Clemson with its orange-and-white uniforms and Tiger paws and band playing the “Tiger Rag” fight song after each South View score.
Tew dismissed the odd circumstances and said his team focused solely on the game.
“We won’t worried about anything going on behind us,” he said. “We were focusing on everything that was going on on the field. As resilient as these guys are, those kind of things aren’t going to affect these guys, They just want to play football.”
The Falcons did have to overcome the absence of two of biggest offensive weapons with quarterback Justin Humphries and running Jemere Artis out. Senior Caleb Woodley handled the quarterback duties for the third straight game and delivered another solid outing, completing 9 of 15 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns. His 30-yarder to Lewis to the South View 1 highlighted what appeared to be a game-winning drive.
“He loves playing the quarterback position, and he threw some great balls to receivers tonight,” Tew said. “We asked him to make some decisions as far as reading the defense and throwing the ball where it needed to go. He did a great job doing it.”
Nazir Monroe-Smith rushed for 127 yards in South Central's loss to South View Friday. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dail)
Monroe-Smith, the Falcons’ primary ball-carrier as a junior, filled in for Artis and rushed for 127 yards on 29 carries. Dajon Williams added 83 yards on five carries, including a 43-yard touchdown dash on a jet sweep.
Brewington piled up 163 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns to lead South View.
Brewington’s first score came on an 8-yard run to cap an 10-play, 61-yard drive to open the game. Woodley put the Falcons up 8-6 with an 8-yard toss to Lewis and a two-point pass to Cydney Williams.
A 30-yard run by Brewington vaulted South View back in front 14-8, but again the Falcons answered on Woodley’s 30-yard pass to Cydney Williams for a 14-14 tie. South View closed the half with a nine-play drive with Brewington pushing in from the 5 as time expired for a 21-14 lead.
South Central cashed in a fumble recovery in the third quarter, getting runs of 12 and 27 yards from Monroe-Smith before Woodley connected with Lewis for a 21-yard score, cutting the deficit to 21-20. A two-point conversion failed for the second straight time.
After a poor Tigers’ punt, South Central needed just two plays to take a 26-21 lead with Dajon Williams sprinting 43 yards for the score.
South View answered with Brewington's third touchdown, a 14-yard run, but failed on a two-point run for a 27-26 lead with 6:13 to play.
The Falcons marched to the South View 12, but Monroe-Smith was stuffed on a fourth-down run up the middle. They forced South View to punt with 2:05 left and took over at the 45. Three plays later, Monroe-Smith slipped in the end zone for the lead.
A crucial two-point run was stopped, leaving the margin at 32-27.
The lack of a kicking game ultimately came back to haunt the Falcons, both in field position and missed extra points.
“We’ve won a lot of football games doing what we do,” Tew said. “You look at the scoreboard, and that kind of crosses your mind, but we’ve won some football games just going for two. That’s just what we did. Ultimately at the end that was going through our mind, but that’s just one facet of a lot of football game that we’ve won.”
For South View, it’s on to the third round.
“Just overwhelming,” Simmons said. “We just fight as a team all the time. We talk about these situations. We just knew it was going to come down to something like this. To knock off the No. 1 seed and to do it in the last minute of the game is just a great feeling. I’m glad me and my boys could pull it out because this game was just a whole bunch of perseverance.”
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.