Gators battle in loss to A-G
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 16, 2005 2:26 AM
SEVEN SPRINGS -- With his team down three touchdowns at halftime to state-ranked Ayden-Grifton, veteran Spring Creek coach Roy Whitfield urged his team to "play together" in the second half.
He silently thought "don't unravel."
Uncharacteristic personal foul penalties and mental mistakes in the kicking game led to the Gators' huge deficit at intermission. But they minimized those lapses in the second half and nearly dealt the Chargers (7-1) their first Class 1-A Carolina Conference defeat of the season.
However, Ayden-Grifton defensive back Jeremy Hardy and linebacker Matt Tripp turned in a key fourth-quarter play that squelched Spring Creek's upset bid. The fourth-down stop along with Tripp's game-clinching touchdown run allowed the Chargers to escape 42-34 on Friday evening.
The few fans who waited for the post-game huddle to break rewarded Spring Creek with a much-deserved standing ovation. The players humbly acknowledged their applause and cheers, and trotted off to the locker room with their heads held high.
"You don't know how they -- 17-18-year-old kids -- are going to react against a team like Ayden-Grifton," he said. "I told them at halftime to play together. I don't care if we get beat 100-12. They did all you can ask as a coach.
"We didn't quit and we didn't give up. We were in the ballgame."
Things looked bleak early in the third quarter, however. Tripp's 2-yard touchdown run boosted the Chargers' advantage to 36-12 at the 10-minute, 10-second mark. The teams traded punts on their next possessions before Spring Creek (4-4, 1-1 Carolina) gained considerable field position on the first of two great punt returns by Josh Wright.
Wright's ramble set the Gators up at the Ayden-Grifton 35. Five plays later, Wright hooked up with Lelo Burt for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed.
The Chargers, who lead the all-time series 5-0, fumbled on their next possession. Billy Salazar recovered and Spring Creek took over at the 29-yard line. Ronnie Butler busted a 19-yard run and Burt finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown scamper.
The Gators trailed 36-26.
Brimming with confidence and eager to remain unbeaten at home, Spring Creek's defense forced the Chargers to punt again early in the final quarter. Richie Turner's punt bounced inside the Gator 20, but no one downed the ball.
Wright stayed alert, grabbed the ball and turned back upfield. Hardy knocked him out of bounds at the Gator 49. Two rushing plays netted eight yards, which set up a third-and-2 situation. Three Charger defenders stopped Ricky Mason at the line of scrimmage.
On fourth down, Wright took the snap and handed off to Burt. Hardy and Tripp hit Burt head-on for no gain and Spring Creek turned the ball over on downs.
"It had basically worked the whole night when we ran that buck sweep to Lelo," said Whitfield. "Josh, as soon as he came off the field, said 'God knows I had it. I should have run the quarterback sneak.'
"It's his call and he knew that. If we had got the first down, we would have kept the ball. It's just one of those things. You try what you think is going to work and if it works, that's great. But it didn't."
Tripp cashed in from 11 yards out four plays later to give the Chargers a more comfortable 42-26 cushion.
"Any time your defense can respond in a big situation gives your whole team a boost," said Ayden-Grifton coach Paul Cornwell, whose team won its eighth consecutive league game. "Obviously that helped us stay in the ballgame because by that time momentum had really swung (in their favor).
"Our defense early in the season was the staple of this team. It's the same guys, but we're not making the plays (lately). We've lost some intensity and we've got to find it if we want to continue to win."
Burt concluded the Gators' scoring with a 14-yard pass from Wright later in the fourth. Burt finished with a team- and career-best 118 yards rushing and another 36 receiving.
Wright added 73 yards rushing, including a beautiful quarterback sneak that resulted in a 25-yard touchdown in the opening half. Overall, Spring Creek piled up 337 yards of total offense compared to 389 for Ayden-Grifton.
The Chargers' Daniel Greene rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Spring Creek defensive coordinator Sonny Kilpatrick put Burt on Greene defensively in the second half, and limited the junior running back to just 26 yards.
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