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If South Pointe wins its second consecutive state championship, it will have done so with one blemish on its record and a gut-wrenching playoff win at home, both to snarling Cougars destined to supplant the Stallions' impressive run.
The Stallions survived a furious fourth-quarter rally by the visiting Cougars Friday night, prevailing 31-28 in the second round of the Class AAAA Division II state playoffs.
South Pointe's lone loss was a 31-17 thrashing administered by the Cougars in the next to last regular season game for both teams.
York fans showed up in large numbers for Friday's playoff showdown, with a goodly number of the Cougar faithful arriving at 5:45 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. By game time, the visitors' bleachers were filled to capacity, with Cougar fans standing on both ends.
Shrine Bowl selectee Lee Wright, a defensive stalwart and return specialist all season, made sure the frenzied Cougar throng had something to cheer about on the opening kickoff.
Wright fielded the pigskin at his 3 and scooted 72 yards down the right sideline to the South Pointe 26.
Two plays later, quarterback Spencer Carroll found DeShawn Davis open on a 2-yard TD pass and the Cougars were ahead 7-0 only 54 seconds into the game.
Playing stout defense and scoring at opportune times, South Pointe had a dominant first half after York's early score.
With two touchdown tosses from fleet-footed quarterback Devin Pearson and a rushing TD, the Stallions built a 21-7 halftime lead.
After a scoreless third quarter, South Pointe appeared to have shifted to cruise control.
But the gritty YCHS contingent would have none of that.
Carroll engineered a 52-yard drive in the early going of the final quarter, highlighted by a 15-yard first-down pass to Daurice Simpson to the South Pointe 37 and a 21-yard burst by Ryan Moore to the 13.
Moore penetrated the end zone from five yards out, slicing South Pointe's lead to 21-14 with 9:26 left in the game.
The Stallions pushed the lead to 28-14 on a 55-yard Pearson TD toss and the South Pointe fans breathed a sigh of relief.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lamin Yanseneh fielded the ball and quickly handed it to Wright on a smooth exchange at the 15.
Wright exploded down the right sideline for an 85-yard touchdown.
Later, the Cougar defense forced a 3-and-out and (you guessed it) Wright fielded the punt at the 15. This time, the Cougar sensation headed to the left sideline, shifted toward the middle of the field and outran several South Pointe pursuers for another 85-yard scoring burst that sent York fans into a frenzy and South Pointe fans into shock.
Buddy Anderson tacked on the point after and the score was deadlocked at 28-all with 4:59 left.
After Logan Ard's 39-yard field goal put the Stallions ahead 31-28 with 1:30 left, the Cougars drove to South Pointe's 35, facing fourth and seven with 4.2 seconds remaining.
Carroll avoided a heavy rush and had no choice but to heave the ball toward the end zone, where South Pointe's PJ Heath made the interception with no time on the clock.
Second-year YCHS head coach Bobby Carroll lauded Wright's incredible return yardage heroics and the team's gritty fourth-quarter effort.
“Lee Wright is an outstanding football player and a young man with class,” noted Carroll. “He took the game into his own hands and almost won it for us, which is why he is a Shrine Bowl selection.”
Carroll said the Cougars had a tough time moving the ball in the first half when they lost the battle for field position.
“South Pointe is a great team,” he said.
“I am proud of our kids for the way they fought back in the second half,” said the YCHS coach.
“I feel for the kids,” Carroll said after the game. “There's a lot of hurt, especially the seniors.”
Carroll lauded the senior players for raising the bar of expectations the last two years.
“It'll be the saddest day of my life when these seniors graduate because of what they meant to the program,” he said. “They've played together a good many years.”
Beau Nunn, a senior stalwart on both sides of the ball and a North-South All-Star selection, talked about what it meant to be part of the Cougar football program after Friday's game.
““It was a tough loss, Nunn said before departing the field house. “We came back and tied the game.”
Nunn said the seniors have played a big role in building a winning program at YCHS.
“I feel good about that,” he said. “We have good young players returning.
Maybe they can go farther in the playoffs than we did.”
Carroll, a York native and Shrine Bowl participant as a member of the York High school football team, let it be known when he accepted the head coaching job two years ago that he came home to coach the Cougars and to coach his son, Spencer, the quarterback.
“Spencer withstood the pressures of quarterbacking the team where his dad is the head coach,” noted Carroll. “It's not easy and he handled it.
“He played the position because he's the best quarterback. I hope other quarterbacks in the future can emulate the way Spencer conducts himself. I am proud of Spencer and all of the players on this team.”
Spencer Carroll, who started at quarterback under former York coach Mike Propst during his sophomore year, talked about life as the coach's son in an interview before the playoffs.
“Playing for my dad is special to me,” said the younger Carroll. “We don't talk about football that much at home. We talk about father-son things.”
With another 10-win season in the fold, coach Carroll said the Cougars will begin offseason preparations the Monday after Thanksgiving.
“We will continue to work hard as we strive to raise the York football program to the level we want it to be, to win the state championship,” said the YCHS coach.
Having advanced to the upper state title game last season and extending South Pointe to the limit in last Friday's playoff classic, the Cougars are on target.
“I want to thank our fans for incredible support since I've been coaching in York,” Carroll said. “We encourage any young man that wants to be part of our football program to contact us.”