Simpson, Defense Rally Pats
Pinecrest trailed 7-0 and its defense was on the field with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter at Purnell Swett Friday night when linebacker Mike Gray suddenly got very vocal.
Moments earlier, the third of four Patriot fumbles in the game was returned 65-yards for a touchdown by Ram linebacker Issac Jacob. You didn’t have to be in the first row of the bleachers to hear the junior challenging the Ram offense, “Run the ball, run the ball.”
“And we stopped them,” Gray, who led the team with 22 total tackles in last week’s loss to Scotland County said. “That’s what we practice every day. It’s good to see the practice pay off.”
The Rams netted only 13 yards on 11 carries against the inspired Patriot defense the rest of the way. They didn’t make a first down in the second half until their final possession of the game.
And the Patriot offense arose from the ashes. Quarterback Dwayne Simpson fumbled the ball away for a fourth time before passing for one touchdown and running for two more in the final 6:38 of the game.
The fantastic finish gave the Patriots a 20-7 victory and a big step toward earning a state playoff berth. They improved to 5-4 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference while the Rams dropped to 2-6 and 0-3.
Simpson gained 124 yards on 27 carries and scored his 20th and 21st touchdowns of the season. He also completed 10 of 17 passes for 169 yards. Levi Tew, who caught the touchdown pass from Simpson that started the rally, caught three for 103 yards. He became the first Patriot since James Baldwin III in 2009 to exceed the century mark in receiving yardage in a game.
For the longest time, it appeared this one would end without a touchdown being scored by either team’s offense. Bouncing back from one-sided losses to Richmond County and Scotland County, the Rams stuffed the inside running game of the Patriots, forcing fumbles in the process. Three other Patriot possessions ended in long missed field goal attempts by Jackson Maples.
The Rams came up empty on two first half red zone chances thanks to an end zone interception by Patriot safety Sam Brower, and an errant snap on a short field goal attempt. But the shocking take-away and fumble return for a touchdown by Jacob put them in the driver’s seat.
That is, until Gray got into the act and the rest of the Patriot defense backed up his words.
“Mike got people going,” Patriot defensive coordinator Jason Sparks said. “He’s a great kid and an awesome player. He did an unbelievable job.”
Following Simpson’s fourth fumble, another three and out by the Ram offense gave the ball back to the Patriots on their own 27 with 10:16 remaining in the game.
“I was mad at myself,” Simpson said. “But all my teammates let me know they had faith in me and that helped me get going. The defense, the offensive line, the receivers – they all came together.”
On third and 16 from the Ram 34, Simpson completed a 20-yard pass to Justin Ray for a critical first down. Two plays later, after a Patriot time out, the quarterback rolled to his left and dropped a pass over the shoulder of Tew. The tall senior caught the ball and turned it into a 46-yard scoring play. The conversion by Conner Hees tied the game at 7-7.
“It was a great feeling,” Tew said of catching the first touchdown pass by a Patriot wide receiver this season. “I’m not giving myself credit because my team blocked great and Dwayne had all the time in the world to throw the ball. All I had to do was catch it.”
A sack by defensive tackle Chyshad McGriff, playing on defense for the first time this season, and a one-armed tackle for a loss by safety Maples helped the Patriots get the ball right back on another Ram punt. Simpson covered all 50 yards on four carries, the last carry going for 24 yards and a touchdown. The conversion was wide, making it 13-7.
After the kickoff, the Rams went for it on fourth down with 1:21 remaining and were stopped at their own 29. Three more carries by Simpson produced the touchdown that wrapped things up.
“Dwayne did a great job of believing in himself and we believe in him,” Patriot coach Chris Metzger said. “Just a lot of kids stepped up and that’s what we’re going to need.
“I’m really proud of these kids. They said they wanted to set a footprint. Four of the last five teams qualified for the playoffs and that’s what they said they wanted to do.”
The Patriots produced 361 yards of total offense and held the Rams to 135. Simpson has now gained 958 yards rushing for the season. The last Patriot to go over the 1,000 mark was Damion Pride with 1,048 yards in 2010. The Patriot jayvee team improved to 6-2 with a 20-14 home win over the Rams on Thursday.
Next Friday the Patriots travel to Richmond Senior (8-0, 3-0) ), a 30-17 winner over Lumberton on Friday. Scotland County defeated Hoke 34-19 in the other SEC game.
The Patriots will host Hoke in the regular season finale in two weeks. And as the regular season winds down, Gray and his teammates know the importance of the final two game.
“It’s always win and go home, especially now that it’s getting close to the playoffs,” Gray said. “You’ve got to bring the intensity every time.”
Pinecrest 0 0 0 20 — 20
Purnell Swett 0 0 7 0 — 7
Scoring: (PS) Issac Jacob 65-yd. fumble return (Tristan Hunt kick); (PC) Levi Tew 46-yd. pass from Dwayne Simpson (Conner Hees kick); (PC) Simpson 24-run (kick failed); (PC) Simpson 24-run (Hees kick).
Team stats: First downs (PC) 16 (PS) 8; Rushing – (PC) 45-192 (PS) 33-62; Passing – (PC) 10-17, 169 yds., Td; (PS) 9-18, 73 yds., int.; Fumbles – (PC) 4-4 (PS) 1-0; Penalties – (PC) 6-67 (PS) 2-15; Punts – (PC) 2-34.0 (PS) 6-34.8; Individual stats: Rushing – (PC) Simpson 27-124, Sengkhenpong 11-44, Anderson 4-29, Roper 1 – (-1) (PS) Oxendine 19-52, Ellerbe 6-26, Swett 7-3; Passing – (PC) Simpson 10-17, 169 yds., Td. (PS) Swett 9-18, 73 yds. int.; Receiving – (PC) Tew 3-103, Ray 4-47, Sengkhenpong 3-19 (PS) Maynor 5-40, Hunt 3-27, Pipkin 1-6.
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