FAIRMONT — It wasn’t pretty, but like anyone, Red Springs football coach Lawrence Ches will take Friday’s win.
To add to the sweetness of the Three Rivers Conference win that bolstered the Red Devils’ playoff position, to win over rival Fairmont on its homecoming is just icing in the cake for the first-year coach.
“We were down with two to three minutes left and we were written off for dead,” Ches said after Red Springs’ 18-12 overtime win over the Golden Tornadoes. “We knew we had to muddy up the water a little bit and make it into an ugly football game, and, hey, ugly wins.”
To seal the deal, Red Springs (6-3, 4-3 TRC) used Nichorie West and Jayshawn Carthens, both of which were players that disrupted the Fairmont (3-6, 2-5 TRC) offense, as West found a wide open Carthens in the end zone on a running back pass for the walk-off touchdown.
“To be honest, I thought I was (Louisville quarterback) Lamar Jackson,” West said of how he channeled the reigning Heisman trophy winner with his pass on the run. “I did my assignment, they told me to run it until I saw him cut open. I saw the cornerback come up and I just threw it in the air. He was wide open.”
The play was something the Red Devils had been “sitting on,” and the time was right.
“We’ve been practicing that for about six weeks. It was the perfect time, perfect place — Fairmont’s homecoming,” Ches said.
West and Carthens spent the night on defense double-covering Fairmont wide receiver Jordan Waters, making it a fitting end that they were on both ends of the winning score. The pair held Waters to 71 yards on six catches.
“I told Jayshawn before the game how important this game was for me,” West said. “Last year I held Jarique (Moore), this year I wanted to hold Jordan by myself, but coach was like let Jayshawn help you. This was one of the best games he’s (Carthens) had defensively. He knocked him at the line and let him come, then I had the rest.”
To force overtime, the Red Devils had to make up for a big mistake inside of four minutes to go. After Fairmont went up 12-6 with 3:42 left on a Malik Arnette touchdown run, Red Spring running back Lee McLean took the kickoff and fumbled the ball at midfield for Fairmont’s Randy Floyd to scoop up.
Red Springs’ defense stood tall, forcing a three-and-out that took less than a 30 seconds off the clock. Fairmont had trouble on the punt when Brent McDonald grabbed the low snap and was stopped for a loss trying to get a first down running the ball.
“We had to hold and let nothing go,” senior linebacker Jerome Bass said. “It’s my last ride as a senior, and it was my only chance to do it (beat Fairmont). I told everybody that we came here together, and we will leave here together win or lose. We had to just lay it all out.”
The defense set up the offense with a short field that resulted in Denym McKeithan tossing a nine-yard touchdown to Aaron Hunt with 35 seconds left. Bass missed the point after touchdown that sent the game to the extra period.
Fairmont lost two yards on four plays from the 10-yard line, while it took the Red Devils three plays to end the game.
The Red Springs rushing attack pounded away at the Golden Tornadoes defense all night behind McLean and Bass. Bass dragged several Fairmont defenders with him during his 26-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the third quarter to tie the game at 6-all.
“When he hit me, I just brushed him off my shoulder, and kept my feet moving,” Bass said. “Then my offensive line gave me a push and I knew I had to get in.”
McLean became the first running back in Robeson County to reach 1,000 yards rushing this season. Needing only one yard, he rushed for 123 yards, including 68 after halftime.
Both teams struggled to string together drives that found the end zone, but the Golden Tornadoes were the first to strike. Running its two-minute drill, Fairmont went 87 yards in under a 1:45 of game time to score as Derrick Arnette scored from a yard out late in the second quarter. A 39-yard pass from Arnette to Jayvon Morris set up the score two plays later on the drive.
Held to its lowest scoring game of the season, Fairmont coach Kevin Inman gave the credit to Red Springs for keeping Waters relatively quiet as a reason Fairmont struggled.
“They double covered No. 5, and we knew that coming in. They put pressure on us and switched up the fronts to stuff we hadn’t seen in film,” Inman said. “They had a really good defensive game plan against us. … We just had simple mistakes and mistakes that you can’t make at this point in time. The mistakes were self-inflicted.”
The win was Red Springs’ first win over Fairmont since 2012, and for many players like Bass and West it was the first win in any sport over the Golden Tornadoes. To be on the other side of a close win over the Golden Tornadoes after taking back-to-back losses by a touchdown was a moment that West was waiting for.
“I told them we was going to be on that winning side,” West said. “Tonight we just showed more character.”
Fairmont travels to East Columbus next week, with a bit of uncertainty in that matchup due to the Gators canceling their game on Friday against East Bladen due to a lack of players. Red Springs closes its home schedule against West Columbus.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.