High School Sports

Comeback lifts Airport to overtime victory

Airport wasn't ready for its unbeaten season to end.

In a stirring comeback from 18 points down, the Eagles defeated Darlington 37-31 in overtime Friday night at Eagles Stadium to advance to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.

Ryan Smith's 1-yard dive in overtime gave the Eagles the victory after the Falcons missed a 32-yard field on their possession.

Trailing 28-10 in the first half, Airport reached back and found a way to win behind a rejuvenated defense and an offense led by a pair of seniors, Smith and quarterback W.T. Murden, who completed 26 of 46 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns.

"This group of guys never gives up," Murden said. "I've never been part of a team that has so much fight in it."

The Eagles (11-0), the fifth-ranked team in Class 3A, forced overtime when they blocked a 28-yard field goal by North-South All-Star kicker Ray Early with less than 10 seconds to play.

Oko Gogo made the block. Murden sweated out the attempt.

"It makes me feel like I was going to have a heart attack," he said.

Airport cut the lead to 28-24 on Smith's 23-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and after a Darlington field goal in the fourth, the Eagles tied the game at 31 with 4:34 to play on a 68-yard touchdown pass from Murden to Smith, who took a short throw over the middle and turned on the jets down the left sideline.

"I had to score. We had to get back in it," said Smith, who rushed for 94 yards and caught five passes for 121 yards.

Murden couldn't believe his effort on the play.

"I knew if he wasn't going to give up, I wasn't going to give up," Murden said.

Smith admitted he was concerned about the big early deficit.

"I thought it was over with, but we fought back," Smith said. "We believed in each other. We never give up on each other. We always play as a team."

Airport coach Kirk Burnett loves the grit of his senior stars.

"Those guys get knocked down and slung around. But they get right back up on the next play," Burnett said.

He called his team's defensive effort in the second half the key to the turnaround.

"We just tried to keep them inside and boxed up," he said.

Darlington (4-7) stunned Airport early with its athleticism. The Falcons jumped to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter on a pair of touchdown passes from Debose to 6-foot-3 receiver Devin Joint, who outjumped Eagle defenders and carried the catches into the end zone for plays of 60 and 57 yards.

Burnett was not surprised by the play of the Falcons.

"This was our championship game. We put everything we have into one game. We never look ahead," he said.

Airport battled back to cut the lead to 14-10 late in the first quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Murden to Josh Salley, but the Falcons cranked up their offense again in the second quarter.

After the Eagles turned the ball over on downs, Darlington drove 57 yards for a score, on a 25-yard pass from Debose to Brandon Shannon. Debose's only three passes of the half all went for touchdowns.

The Falcons then turned a David Debose interception of a Murden pass into another quick score. It took two plays to cover 38 yards, with Domique Cooper scoring on an 18-yard burst around the right side to boost the lead to 28-10.

The Eagles rallied for a score with eight seconds to play in the first half to cut the lead to 28-17, with Murden, who threw for 208 yards in the first half, finding Deonne Hopkins in the back of the end zone on a 2-yard pass.

Airport hosts Lake City next week in the second round.

Darlington 14 14 0 3 0 - 31

Airport 10 7 7 7 6 - 37

First quarter

D - Devin Joint 60-yard pass from Damien Debose (Ray Early kick), 11:03

A - Austin Jordan 27-yard FG, 7:29

D - Joint 57-yard pass from Debose (Early kick), 6:07

A - Josh Salley 20-yard pass from W.T. Murden (Jordan kick), 1:25

Second quarter

D - Brandon Shannon 25-yard pass from Debose (Early kick), 3:03

D - Domique Cooper 18-yard run (Early kick), 2:21

A - Deonne Hopkins 2-yard pass from Murden (Jordan kick), :08

Third quarter

A - Ryan Smith 23-yard run (Jordan kick), 4:40

Fourth quarter

D - Early 37-yard FG, 7:02

A - Smith 68-yard pass from Murden (Jordan kick), 4:34

Overtime

A - Smith 1 yard run (no kick)

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