Devin Starnes unashamedly cried, head cradled between his elbows as his forehead bounced into the turf. Justin Hart sat by himself, the goalposts looming over him, elbows on his knees and staring across the field.
South Pointe’s dream of a repeat state championship tumbled 35-30 to Greenwood on Friday, the Stallions (12-2) unable to get one more big play in a game full of them. The Eagles’ double-wing rushing attack churned up yard after yard, and while South Pointe’s high-flying aerial assault of Devin Pearson, Davonta Blake and Anthony Johnson kept the Stallions in the game, the defense and special teams couldn’t mimic those performances.
“We had a great year,” coach Strait Herron said. “I thanked the seniors for their leadership. We just came up short.
“One of them old Vince Lombardi sayings – ‘We didn’t get beat, we just ran out of time.’ ”
The Stallions had everything going for them, after Pearson ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 6:22 to play, making it a five-point game. The touchdown, keyed by a 42-yard snaking catch-and-run from Johnson on a fourth-and-25 play, seemed to be the penultimate death blow to Greenwood’s hopes for a third straight title-game appearance.
But South Pointe again decided to onside kick, a decision that had led to an untouched touchdown run in the first half but a near-comeback from a 14-point deficit to start the second. Logan Ard locked into one-on-one coverage on the left side of the field, and dribbled the ball at his man.
The ball bounded past the defender as he grabbed but lost, and Ard, already with a full head of steam, nearly got his hands on it. The Eagles fell on it first, though, and put their trusted running game back on the field.
South Pointe forced a third-and-1, but Greenwood picked up the first down, and then the Stallions forced fourth-and-1. Greenwood sent its field-goal unit onto the field, then called timeout to think it over; it decided to go for broke and went with its runners.
David Davis plunged through the heart of the Stallions’ defense and the Eagles ran out the clock.
“Because we can’t cover a kick,” Herron bluntly responded when asked why he stuck with the onside alignments. “They left a side open. (Ard’s brother) did that against Independence a couple of years ago. He had a hand on it. He did exactly what we asked him to do.”
It was the one big play that wasn’t.
After a scoreless first quarter, the teams exploded for 42 points in the second. South Pointe equaled a quick Greenwood touchdown, but the Eagles scored twice more to lead by 14. Pearson hit the previous anonymous Trinity Shannon for an 80-yard touchdown, keyed by a bad Greenwood tackling angle, but then disaster struck the Stallions.
First, South Pointe lined up to kick onsides and perhaps get the ball back before halftime, but the high pooch kick was fielded on the run by Octavious Morgan, who streaked nearly untouched down the sideline for a touchdown. Then when the Stallions got the ball and began to drive, they shot themselves out of another opportunity.
Pearson screened to DeShawn Davis, who was hit and fumbled. Temoris Coates looked to be on his knees when he recovered the bouncing ball, but he rose and began to run; no whistle was blown as Coates scampered to the 9-yard-line.
“He was down,” Herron said. “Same old junk.”
That was saved when South Pointe stiffened on the possession, and Greenwood missed a field goal, but the Eagles got one more defensive play to end the half. As Johnson jitterbugged past the secondary to find the sideline, the Eagles’ Michael Davis made a touchdown-saving tackle. Pearson threw incomplete into the end zone to end the half at 28-14 Greenwood.
Johnson ended with 10 catches for 242 yards, but was disappointed. “I felt like I left a lot of plays on the field,” he said.
South Pointe immediately scored behind Blake to start the third quarter, then recovered an onside kick and drove again. It was held to an Ard field goal, though, and Greenwood completed one of only seven passes on the night for a 75-yard gain.
The ensuing touchdown made it 35-24 and Greenwood could see it. The Stallions were forced to watch it. The Eagles will play Northwestern at noon in eight days for the Class AAAA Division II state championship.
“We have a lot of guys, some freshmen, sophomores, then all of our returners and upperclassmen,” Herron said. “That’s what I was just telling them – ‘Man, you can come up with every excuse you want to not to lift weights and not to work hard, but if you don’t want to go through this again, you got to get in the weight room.”
GREENWOOD 35, SOUTH POINTE 30