Fairmont is already banned from the state playoffs due to four fighting ejections in its Sept. 7 loss to Lake View, S.C. A week later, another Fairmont player was tossed for fighting.
Disciplinary problems resurfaced Friday night during Fairmont’s 24-18 win over county rival South Robeson in a Three Rivers Conference opener.
During a single series midway through the second quarter, Fairmont drew three unsportsmanlike penalties, including two on first-year coach James Atkinson who was subsequently ejected. Atkinson, who was flagged for arguing the initial unsportsmanlike call on lineman Silas Oxendine who shoved a Mustang after the whistle, drew more laundry when he stalked the sidelines and kept in the officials’ ears after a chop block call. When the dust settled and the flags were pocketed, Fairmont found itself toeing its own goal line at 4th-and-57.
The Golden Tornadoes didn’t convert that mammoth fourth-down, but they did on the most decisive play of the game. On 4th-and-goal with 3:11 left in the game and the score knotted at 18-18, Fairmont quarterback Jarrod Neal rolled right and stuck a 2-yard strike to Devonte Govan in the corner of the end zone, giving the Tornadoes a 24-18 lead they would hold til the final horn.
“We were expecting him to have to run it in but their man bit on Jarrod and I got a good quarterback and he made a good play,” said Govan, who finished with three grabs for 38 yards and two scores. “They played off of us so we could throw the hitch and the slants, so we had to do what we had to do.”
The Mustangs’ secondary couldn’t find an answer for the aerial display put on by Neal, who threw for 195 yards on 12-of-20 passing with an interception and four touchdowns.
“Their receivers are tall and made great plays on the ball,” South Robeson coach Stephen Roberson said. “They made a couple great plays on the outside. The defensive breakdown in the end is what gave them the winning score.”
Neal christened his pocket presence with a 65-yard pass to a streaking Tolbert who shed a tackler on his way to the paydirt to give Fairmont a 6-0 lead with 2:53 left in the first.
“It was a really good connection, we knew it was going to be there and we delivered and made a play,” Tolbert said. He finished with a game-high 80 receiving yards on four grabs.
Fairmont extended its lead to 12-0 in the second quarter when Neal hooked up with Govan for the first time on a 30-yard touchdown pass. The Golden Tornadoes’ momentum, however, imploded following the parade of flags that sent their coach to the lockers.
“Everybody kept our heads up,” Tolbert said. “Everybody on the sidelines had to step up and we had to have people come in and make plays.”
Nevertheless, South Robeson, aching for its first home win in three years, took advantage of the wrench thrown in Fairmont’s personnel. The Mustangs marched down the field and punched Jonathan McDaniel across the goal-line on a 1-yard plunge to make for a 12-6 count just before halftime.
South Robeson struck again in the third to knot it at 12-12 on the shoulders of running back Jeremy Couser who snaked his way through a thicket of Fairmont defenders and spun out for a 59-yard score. He tallied a game-high 101 rushing yards on just six carries.
The county rivals traded scoring punches once more to make it 18-18, as Fairmont’s Luke Hunt joined the scoring mix on a 34-yard connection with Neal and the Mustangs’ found life in their passing game with a 14-yard hookup from Daquinn Lindsey to Kalvis Chavis early in the fourth.
Only Fairmont had another touchdown left in the tank.
“We just didn’t make enough plays at the end,” Roberson said. “We had too many opportunities to get the ball off the field. Just fundamental errors that cost them the game.”
Fairmont, sans its head coach, huddled in its end zone and was reminded by fill-in head coach Sandy Thorndyke of — pretty or not — where Fairmont stands after Friday: 1-0 in the conference. On top of that, Fairmont, the two-time defending league champs, have won 13 consecutive Three Rivers games.
“It means everything to get that first (conference) win,” Govan said.
Reach Sports editor Kaleb Roedel at 910-272-6111 or firstname.lastname@example.org