RED SPRINGS — The Red Springs football team has several underclassmen playing in big spots. At times on Friday night the inexperienced showed going up against South Robeson, but late in the game the Red Devils grew up.
No one on the field donning a black and red Red Springs uniform seemed to grow up quicker in crunch time than quarterback Denym McKeithan. The sophomore that is new to playing quarterback this year, shook off two interceptions in the game to lead a game-winning drive for the Red Devils in their 27-22 win at home.
“I was trying to stay focused. There was a lot of things going through my head, people all around me talking, and I just tried to stay focused,” he said. “I just stayed by myself and didn’t let the voices get to me.”
Down one with 3:14 left, McKeithan and the Red Springs (5-2, 3-2 TRC) offense took over and marched 55 yards down the field and scored with 47 seconds left. McKeithan had two throws in critical moments to help put up the game-winning touchdown, with a 46-yard hook-up with Traveze Billinger on fourth-and-10 to get the Red Devils inside the South Robeson 10-yard line, and then a 12-yard screen pass to Jayshawn Carthens for the touchdown.
“There’s no quit in these kids. The young guys were the reason we got down there,” Red Springs coach Lawrence Ches said. “It was sophomore to sophomore (McKeithan to Billinger) and then it was sophomore to junior on the touchdown. I’m just proud that Denym can face some adversity and overcome and lead us in the most crucial time.”
Those were two of the the three completions he threw for on the night after throwing two interceptions on his first seven attempts. Despite finishing strong, McKeithan knows that he still has room to develop as a passer.
“I’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “I’ve still got to learn how to read the defenses like I’m supposed to.”
To set up the Red Devils’ last-minute finish, South Robeson (2-5, 2-3 TRC) rode a momentum wave in the fourth quarter to come from a 21-8 hole and take the lead.
In a matter of 2:18 seconds of game time midway through the fourth quarter the Mustangs posted the two scores to give themselves the one-point lead. South Robeson capped off a three-play drive after a short punt when Jaylen Mitchell fell on a fumbled snap in the end zone with 5:32 left. Darrius Brown recovered the onside kickoff following the score, and seven plays later Darius Wright scored his second touchdown of the game from five yards out with 3:14 left.
Wright rushed for a game-high 104 yards and had two of the three touchdowns scored.
“They got spunk in them,” South Robeson coach Clay Jernigan said. “I can’t complain how we fought our tails off to come back. I hate to let this game got away and they are heartbroken, but maybe that will get them hungry next week for East Columbus. We should’ve won that ballgame.”
Momentum was in South Robeson’s favor for the first half after heading into the locker room up 8-7 and getting the second-half kickoff. Both teams traded out scoreless possessions in the third quarter, before Jerome Bass happened for the Red Springs defense.
The Mustangs were on the move in the red zone before Bass tipped the pass, gathered it and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown and give Red Springs a 15-8 lead, and change the tides of the game for a few possessions.
“I saw it coming and I stuck my hand to keep it from going any where else and it took a lucky bounce. Then when I caught it, I was like, ‘Oh crap, I got the ball,’ and I knew I had to go with it,” said Bass following what was a big night for him with two touchdowns and being named homecoming king at halftime. “This is my last homecoming game and I wanted to show what I got.”
With the running game of Lee McLean and Bass struggling, McKeithan called his own number on a speed option that he broke free for a 68-yard touchdown with 10:47 left in the game to put the Red Devils up 21-8.
“I took it in my own hands thinking ‘If they can’t do it, I can do it,’” McKeithan said.
McKeithan led all rushers for Red Springs with 85 yards on four carries. McLean rushed for 66 yards, his second-lowest total of the season.
After taking their lumps three of the last four weeks against teams like South Columbus and East Bladen, Ches said the Red Devils picked up lessons on staying the course that came to use in the back-and forth second half.
“It just made us mentally and emotionally tougher, more prepared to have a close game and more prepared to win the ones we are supposed to win in the time of the game we are supposed to win it,” he said. “You want to go into the two-minute drill with the deficit and pull it out. As a coach, that made everything good.”
Red Springs travels to Whiteville and South Robeson hosts East Columbus next Friday.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.