LUMBERTON — Four teams made the NCHSAA state football playoffs, and despite no football conference championships being won, 2017 was a memorable season with players and moments that we won’t be forgotten.
Let’s take a look back at some of the top moments now that the season has come to a close for Robeson County.
Red Springs 18, Fairmont 12 OT — Oct. 20 at Fairmont High School
It is always a good meeting between the two schools, and this year’s edition was no exception. Red Springs controlled possession in the contest, and used a defensive stop late to help force overtime.
With less than four minutes remaining, Red Spring running back Lee McLean fumbled a kickoff return and Fairmont took over needing to convert a pair of first downs the end the game. It didn’t happen as the Red Springs’ defense stood tall to force a punt that was mishandled by Fairmont’s Brent McDonald to set up a short field for the Red Devils.
With 35 seconds left, Red Springs tied the game on a Denym McKeithan touchdown pass to Aaron Hunt.
In overtime, Fairmont went backward on its four plays from the 10-yard line and couldn’t score, something Red Springs did in three plays. The walk-off touchdown for the Red Devils came on a running back pass from Nichorie West to Jayshawn Carthen. The pair scored the game-winning touchdown, and helped the defense hold Fairmont’s top receiver Jordan Waters to 71 yards and no touchdowns.
The win was the first over Fairmont for Red Springs since 2012. That was the last season the Red Devils also won a playoff game, and that was another feat it accomplished this season.
McLean became the first running back in Robeson County to surpass 1,000 yards with his 123-yard performance over the Golden Tornadoes.
Noah Wheeler vs. West Bladen — Oct. 20 at St. Pauls High School
While the reigning Robeson County offensive player of the year struggled to start his senior season, St. Pauls quarterback Noah Wheeler came alive in the second half of the season with a simplified playbook that had him running the ball more.
His best game scoring wise of the year came as the Bulldogs were at home against West Bladen. Wheeler stopped the fireworks show with his scoring, accounting for seven touchdowns in the 55-28 win over the Knights to get it to 5-4 on the season.
The senior quarterback accounted for five touchdowns in the first half as the Bulldogs took a 41-12 lead into the break, with four rushing scores and a passing touchdown to Caleb Inman.
“Things just slowed down for me,” he said after the game. “I just feel like a whole new quarterback.”
As a whole, the St. Pauls rushing attack accounted for 338 yards behind 186 yards from Wheeler.
Jon Sherman, Purnell Swett coach, on the first and last games of the year
There were a lot of quotes from coaches this season, some that made print and others that were not included but were equally as amusing.
Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman had two quotes at the bookend games of the regular season that showed how his team was driven by inspiration from outside sources.
“They’re tired of saying, ‘We suck,’” he said after the season-opening win over Pine Forest. “We wanted to prove that we’re getting better and better.”
The Rams started the season off 3-0 heading into its bye week and they had confidence and determination after matching last season’s win total in the first three weeks of the season. They wanted more though.
Then came the rough stretch, the “gauntlet” as Sherman referred to Sandhills Athletic Conference play. After losing in its final non-conference game at Hoggard, Purnell Swett lost six straight games and needed to close with wins over Hoke and Lumberton to have a chance to make the state playoffs.
In The Robesonian’s Week 11 picks column, the Rams were slated to win their last game of the season against the Bucks, and did in a 21-14 road contest. Motivation from that and comments on the offense in the Week 12 picks column were fuel for the fire to top Lumberton 27-20.
“We got resilient. We’d get up and get down, but we were resilient,” Sherman said after beating Lumberton for the first time in five years. “Some people thought there wouldn’t be a chance for us to win. They predicted two weeks ago that our last win would come against Hoke. But, you know, I appreciate that. … I love my kids and it’s all about them.”
The next day following the NCHSAA’s seedings mix-up after releasing the initial preliminary bracket, Purnell Swett was playoff bound.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.