LUMBERTON — In the halftime locker room, Lumberton quarterback Braylan Grice didn’t want himself, or his team to be too content nursing a seven-point lead.
“At halftime, I could already tell that everyone thought we had won the game. I was telling the boys to calm down and that we hadn’t won the game yet,” Grice said. “I think their heads got too big. My head got too big too, I’m not going to lie.”
The lead grew early in the third quarter, possibly building more contentment, and then Westover took advantage in almost a mirror image to the meeting between the two teams last year. Westover scored 14 points in the fourth quarter at Lumberton, just like last year, to pull off the 26-25 come-from-behind victory.
The win was former St. Pauls coach Ernest King’s first win at his alma mater.
“I told our guys that we needed to come together and stick together,” King said. “When we were down at halftime, we had played our worst half, and we were still in the game.
“When we went down 25-12, I told them to forget about every mistake. They needed to go out there and execute because the system would make them look good and the system would make them look great. That’s what they came out and did.”
Three plays into the fourth quarter, the Wolverines (1-1) started their comeback as quarterback Xavier Marsh used a four-yard scamper to take Lumberton’s 13-point lead back to within one possession at 25-18 with 10:52 left.
Marsh completed 16-of-24 passes for 184 yards with two passing touchdowns, and two on the ground. King said it was his senior quarterback playing up to the level of his counterpart.
“He started trying to match Braylan,” King said. “We told our guys that Braylan was holding the ball loose, and that if you get him wrapped up, they needed to strip the ball.”
On Lumberton’s (0-2) next possession, it marched down the field with its running game led by Tazarie Butler and Marquese Williams to breach the Westover red zone. The drive was brought to a halt when Grice was strip sacked by Westover’s Antonio Williams, who returned the ball into Pirates’ territory.
“I was trying to get the ball out to throw it. It was a dumb decision,” Grice said.
That fumble was turned into the game-winning score more than three minutes later when Marsh capped off a nine-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown run, and he ran the two-point conversion in to take the lead with 4:15 left.
“Baby mistakes really made us lose the game,” Grice said. “We need to come up bigger at the end of games. We’ve got to play better than that.
“Our defense just got lackadaisical.”
Lumberton built a 25-12 lead on the first drive of the second half, after receiving the opening kickoff. Grice used a 53-yard pass downfield to Kwashek Breeden on fourth down to keep the drive alive, and the quarterback scored on the next play with a 20-yard run down, beating defenders down the sideline.
Grice accounted for 262 yards of total offense, but couldn’t find the combination to get the offense going in the closing minutes. He accounted for all four touchdowns, with three on the ground and one on a two-yard touchdown pass to Yakemiean Johnson in the closing seconds of the first half. He also had the one interception of Marsh on defense.
Westover got possession on the ensuing kickoff after taking the 26-25 lead, but Lumberton’s defense stood tall to get a three-and-out. Following a Westover punt with 2:27 left, Lumberton moved the ball seven yards from where it started the drive on eight plays, with Grice’s pass on fourth and 15 with less than 30 seconds left falling incomplete.
Last season, the Pirates’ offense lacked a consistent running back to keep Grice’s passing and running game balanced. Grice said the duo of Williams and Bulter could be what their offense needs.
“They run the ball and execute,” Grice said. “That helps me out even more because now linebackers are going to step up in the gap. So maybe the deep ball will be there.”
Breeden had a team-high 118 receiving yards for Lumberton, while Bulter rushed for 74 yards and Williams added 63.
Lumberton travels to South View next week, while Westover travels to Hoke.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.