This time around, the Red Devils wanted no part in keeping things close with a Three Rivers Conference nemesis and had no problems maintaining a sizable lead.
Junior two-way starter C.J. McGeachey enjoyed a career performance as Red Springs shook off an early mistake to run away with a 46-10 victory over the Golden Tornadoes, inching one step closer to its goal of capturing the school’s first league title since 2004.
“This team inspires me to perform,” McGeachey said after hauling in three touchdown receptions while batting down four passes in the secondary. “We’re only thinking about one thing now and that’s a championship.”
Red Springs coach George Coltharp calls McGeachey his squad’s “unsung hero” but after Friday’s outing, he’s no longer the Red Devils’ best kept secret on offense.
“He just steps in and fills a role like all of our players,” Coltharp said. “We’ve got a lot of special kids. We trust his talent and he does what we tell him to do. He makes an impact on offense and defense whenever we need him.”
Red Springs quarterback Blake Greene, who accounted for five touchdowns despite four interceptions in last year’s 40-34 loss, dissected Fairmont’s secondary to the tune of 323 yards passing and six touchdowns. Greene said he’s had the Fairmont game circled on his bedroom calendar throughout the summer and says he was anxious to shake last season’s mistakes against a cross-town foe the Red Devils hadn’t beaten in three seasons.
“It was personal, man,” Greene said who completed 25-of-37 passes without a pick. “Coach told me before the game that I could be remembered as one of the best players to ever play in Robeson County, but if I never beat Fairmont, people would always hang that over my head.”
Coltharp added: “I told him Peyton Manning was a great college quarterback, but he never beat Florida. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered and that it was his last chance to dispel the rumor that he couldn’t win big games.”
Greene’s second and third touchdown passes of the contest came on consecutive drives to McGeachey that ended the first half and gave the Red Devils a 21-10 lead. McGeachey’s second score, a 44-yard reception on 4th-and-12, was the back-breaker for the Golden Tornadoes.
Red Springs managed a lead despite three turnovers and eight penalties and a momentum-changing play the first time Fairmont took the field defensively.
All-county senior end Luke Hunt sacked Greene in the end zone on Red Springs’ first possession and the ball squirted free. Fairmont’s Naim Bellamy fell on a loose ball in the end zone for Fairmont’s only touchdown. Quentin Walker’s two-point conversion run put the visitors ahead 8-0 and shook the Red Springs sideline.
“We thought we had the game under control, but they came back,” Hunt said.
After Red Springs freshman Brandon Smith lost a fumble inside Fairmont’s 25 on the ensuing possession, the Red Devils got the ball back on Jarrod Neal’s eighth interception of the season. Greene found a wide-open Leach on second-and-goal from the 7 and knotted it up with a two-point quarterback draw.
Fairmont tacked on a safety in the second, but after that, it was all Red Devils.
“I thought we dictated tempo defensively and that’s what won the game,” Coltharp said. “Our kids and coach (Ron) Cook wanted this one bad.”
Neal, Fairmont’s starting quarterback, left the game early in the third quarter and did not return after taking a shot from Red Springs’ Mike Graham. Hunt, Chaise Tolbert and Shemar Barfield shared snaps under center the rest of the way, but never found a rhythm against the Red Devils’ front seven that brought constant pressure.
Fairmont turned it over four times in the game including twice inside the 20-yard line.
“We hung our heads after Jarrod went out,” Barfield said. “We just kind of lost our composure and Red Springs ran with it.”
Zach Leach, the area’s leading receiver, caught a career-high 13 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns. He added a fourth score on a 12-yard jet sweep midway through the third quarter. Leach shouldered the receiving burden, like he’s done the last few games, after JuJu Brown was sidelined in the second half with a knee injury.
“That wasn’t me,” Leach said as he pointed upward at midfield after the game. “That was all him.”
Two games stand between an unbeaten mark in league play and a five-game winning streak heading into the playoffs. Red Springs hosts South Robeson — fresh off its first conference victory in three seasons — next week before finishing out the regular season at West Columbus on Oct. 26.
What would a conference championship mean to the preseason favorites?
“Everything,” McGeachey said. “It would be heaven sent.”