MT. ULLA—November 8, 2019, is a day the Statesville Greyhounds and their football fans will remember years from now.
“Holy cow,” coach Randall Gusler said after the scoreboard clock went to all zeroes Friday night. “What a feeling.”
Rallying from a 14-point, first-half deficit, the Greyhounds battled West Rowan to a regulation draw and then scored the only points in the first overtime to clinch the North Piedmont Conference championship and their first perfect regular season since 1989 with a 27-24 victory.
Junior quarterback Nebanye Moore completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns for Statesville (11-0, 5-0), which entered the night tied for first place in the league with West Rowan (7-4, 4-1).
The Greyhounds started overtime with the ball but were only able to move it from the 10 to the 7-yard line.
West Rowan coach Joe Nixon called timeout in attempt to ice Statesville kicker Sam Buckner. The freshman connected on his 24-yard field goal try when play resumed breaking a 24-all tie.
“He came through under pressure,” Gusler said.
Falcons running back Jalen Houston had a heavy workload Friday, and he took the handoff on West Rowan’s first offensive play in OT. The senior carried the ball to the 3 but appeared to lose it before the whistle. The Greyhounds had the ball and thought they’d won the game there.
But officials ruled Houston was down by contact. Statesville’s defense didn’t budge on second and third down.
West Rowan kicker Federico Cruz strolled out to attempt the game-tying field goal. Gusler called timeout to ice him.
Cruz never got a chance to kick after the timeout. The snap was low. Holder Daniel Sell decided to run. He raced to his left but the Greyhounds knocked him out of bounds several yards shy of the goal line and then erupted in jubilation.
A first-place showdown came down to the very last play.
“What more could you ask for in the season finale?” Gusler asked, noting several close Statesville versus West Rowan slugfests over the years.
Splitting the uprights
Buckner was 3-for-3 on extra-point attempts and made both of his field goals tries. His 19-yard field goal with 9 minutes, 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter—set up by a 54-yard pass play from Moore to Ky’Wuan Dukes—gave the Greyhounds their first lead, 24-21.
West Rowan tied the game with Cruz’s 30-yard field goal with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but Buckner was clutch in the extra stanza.
“I put in a little extra work on Thursday after the walkthrough,” he said.
Those who’ve followed Greyhounds football throughout the season know they’ve had trouble in those special teams situations. Some kicks Buckner missed. But there were many times the snap was off or there was trouble getting the hold right.
Those special teams situations went smooth against the Falcons and, in a strange irony, West Rowan experienced a gaffe there when the game was on the line.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better night as far as that went,” Buckner said.
Answering before halftime
It was 21-7 Falcons with 1:52 left in the second quarter after Ashton Matthews stripped the ball on a Statesville punt return and Reggie Everhart scooped up the fumble and took it 15 yards to the end zone.
It looked like that score would hold up at the break when Moore, trying to find an open receiver, was sacked for a 16-yard loss. But then he hooked up with Jasaiah Gathings for a 45-yard pass. Passes of 17 yards and 21 yards to Caylon Imes followed to get the Greyhounds to the West Rowan 2 with 15.8 seconds remaining in the half.
Imes carried the ball into the end zone with 11.1 to go, cutting the Statesville deficit to 21-14 at the intermission.
By the numbers
Gathings caught six passes for 136 yards. His 50-yard touchdown reception tied the game at 7 in the second quarter.
Dukes hauled in seven passes for 111 yards. His 16-yard TD catch knotted the game at 21 early in the third quarter.
Imes and the Greyhounds rushing attack were held in check. He had 25 of their 66 rushing yards. But the passing game rose to the occasion after Imes recorded back-to-back games with at least 230 yards on the ground.
“We tried to spread them out,” Gusler said.
Houston tallied 166 yards rushing on 29 carries to lead the West Rowan offense.
Both Statesville and West Rowan turn their attention to the state playoffs. The N.C. High School Athletic Association will release the brackets for all classifications Saturday.
WR—Baiden Suddarth 1 run (Federico Cruz kick), 2:44.
S—Jasaiah Gathings 50 pass from Nebanye Moore (Sam Buckner kick), 8:27.
WR—Jalen Houston 28 run (Cruz kick), 6:38.
WR—Reggie Everhart 15 fumble return (Cruz kick), 1:52.
S—Caylon Imes 2 run (Buckner kick), :11.1
S—Ky’Wuan Dukes 16 pass from Moore (Buckner kick), 9:45.
S—Buckner 19 FG, 9:58.
WR—Cruz 30 FG, 4:10.
S—Buckner 24 FG.