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Playing with their ears pinned back after down-to-the-wire losses in two previous games, the York Comprehensive High School Cougars saddled the previously unbeaten South Pointe Stallions with a 31-17 program-defining win.
The gritty effort against a team most high school prognosticators labeled the best in the state left a huge contingent of York fans in a frenzied state. And who could blame them?
It was gut-check time and the Cougars responded with tenacity and grit.
The Cougars left their calling card on the game's opening possession, with senior quarterback Spencer Carroll engineering a precision-like 67-yard touchdown drive.
The drive culminated with Carroll's 9-yard TD toss to wide receiver Josh McCoy.
The Stallions were equal to the challenge, scoring on consecutive possessions in the waning moments of the first quarter and early stages of the second quarter.
Speedy scatback Josh Brice scored South Pointe's first touchdown from a yard out, then bolted 60 yards to paydirt on the next possession.
The visiting Cougars knotted the score at 14-all when Brice fumbled the ball away and sophomore linebacker Dario Brown pounced on the loose pigskin in the end zone with 4:24 remaining in the first half.
With two of the state's best defenses applying constant pressure, the teams exchanged punts for much of the third quarter.
Sophomore placekicker Buddy Anderson, on lease from the YCHS soccer team, booted a 27-yard field goal with 22.3 seconds left in the third quarter, staking the Cougars to a 17-14 lead.
The Cougar defense has built a reputation of scoring off turnovers and the region showdown with South Pointe was no exception.
With 8:09 left in the game and the Stallions pinned at their own 4-yard line, quarterback Devin Pearson would have issued a distress signal had there been one.
With Cougar defenders converging in rapid pursuit, Pearson attempted to loft the ball to a teammate.
But York Shrine Bowler Lee Wright had other ideas, intercepting the ball and scoring from three yards out.
With Wright's defensive gem and Anderson's third-quarter field goal, the Cougars built a two-possession lead at 24-14.
South Pointe moved the ball effectively in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, but the drive stalled at York's 10.
Logan Ard's 27-yard field goal sliced the lead to seven at 24-17 with 1:18 left in the game.
But the Stallion's onside kick, recovered by South Pointe, failed to travel the required 10 yards and the Cougars were in business at midfield.
On third and 8, Carroll completed a pass to Hunter Nunn off the bootleg and the senior tight end rambled 48 yards down the sideline to seal the win.
Head coach Bobby Carroll admitted to being in a better mood than last week in his postgame remarks.
“Our defense played great and special teams made a difference,” commented Carroll. “The offense moved the ball when they had to.
“It's a big win against a great football team.”
Carroll lauded Pettiway's punting, Anderson's clutch field goal and son, Spencer's, passing totals despite menacing penetration from South Pointe's athletic defensive front.
“Spencer played a great game,” observed the YCHS coach. “He's matured a lot since the last time we played South Pointe. “He has a quick release in the 1 and 3-step drops in our offensive scheme.”
Quarterback Carroll stood tall in the line of fire, completing 26 of 38 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns, with no picks.
The senior signal-caller typically shifts credit to his teammates.
“Our offensive line blocking and receivers running their routes make my job easy,” he noted.
Carroll's quick release in the short passing game spelled doom for the South Pointe defense when he wasn't being sacked by blitzing linebackers.
“It's what we work on at practice,” he said. “Our successful opening drive pushed the momentum our way.”
Like all of the Cougar players, Carroll looks forward to Friday's game with rival Clover.
“It's a great rivalry,” he said. “We will prepare for Clover like we do all of our opponents and be ready to play.”
Wright was South Pointe's worst nightmare on the defensive side of the ball, with 11 tackles, 4 solos, 4 primary hits, 3 assists, a fumble recovery and two interceptions, one for a touchdown.
“It felt great getting into the end zone after the interception,” commented Wright. “We knew we had to play defense with them and we did.
“The key is to stay focused for Clover and the playoffs and not get the big head.”
Other Players of the Week besides Carroll and Wright included offensive lineman Beau Nunn, who graded 88 percent, specialty team, Jerome Pettiway, 10 punts for 386 yards, two downed inside the 20, one inside the five and four touchbacks; defensive lineman, Ty Currence, 13 tackles, two primary hits, three solos, eight assists, one tackle for loss.
Coach Carroll said preparing for Clover's wing-T offense Friday night is a difficult task.
“It's an offense we can't simulate in practice,” he stressed. “We don't see that offensive scheme often.
“We'll have our work cut out for us making the adjustments.”
Carroll said interim head coach John Barrett is one of the hardest working coaches around.