Stuck between emergence and self-destruction, Rocky Mount High found itself in need a of long third-down conversion with a quarterback under center who had completed just two of his previous 10 attempts Friday.
Gryphons signal caller JT Smith, shined in the first half – completing 11 of 15 passes and two touchdowns – but was struggling in the second as Rocky Mount seemed unable to pull away from Erwin Triton.
When Smith stepped to the line on third-and-10 with an injury to his left leg, the Gryphons needed a conversion trailing by four points with just more than three minutes to go.
He stepped into the throw as he saw receiver Bikembe Kearney – who had redemption in mind after dropping a touchdown pass earlier in the game – break past his man.
Kearney hauled in the pass, and Smith scored a few plays later on an eight-yard run as Rocky Mount knocked Triton from the ranks of the unbeatens with a 24-21 victory at Rocky Mount High School.
The Gryphons’ defense, which allowed 303 yards and a near season-high in points, forced a pair of turnovers on the final drives as Rocky Mount rose to the occasion late, a complete reversal from last week’s fourth-quarter collapse.
“When it became that time, they rose up and played a ball game,” Rocky Mount coach Jason Battle said.
After the two teams traded scores in the second quarter during a seven-minute surge that produced a combined 31 points, Rocky Mount (5-1) carried a lead into the fourth quarter.
After giving up an 88-yard run in the first half, the Gryphons gave up another big play with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Triton running back Zach Wade found space around the edge and ran 79 yards for the score. The two runs accounted for more than half of Triton’s total yards.
“If you get punched, you have to punch back,” Battle said. “We just wanted to meet the same intensity that they were going to play with.”
Triton (5-1) almost didn’t give Rocky Mount a chance. The Hawks recovered an onside kick, looking to run out the rest of the time on the clock. Until the Gryphons’ defense started to make plays.
Rocky Mount stalled Triton on fourth down, giving Smith and Kearney a chance at redemption. Jeffery Person forced a fumble on the next drive, chasing down Triton quarterback Jeremy Leggett from behind.
“All I know is that I had to get to him, and I had to get to him fast because I was tired,” Person said.
After the Gryphons were stopped on fourth down trying to run out the clock, Gryphons safety Broderick Caudle hauled in an interception to secure the victory. It was a nearly identical ending to the Gryphons’ victory last week. Only this week, Rocky Mount made plays in the fourth quarter instead of collapsing.