Alex Podlogar

Thinking outside the pressbox

Cavaliers stun Trojans in first round

Published in The Sanford Herald on November 10, 2008

By ALEX PODLOGAR

Sports Coverage

FOUR OAKS — One small step in a tournament, one giant leap for a program.

The Southern Lee Cavaliers just keep making history.

In only their second year and in the state playoffs for the second time, the Cavaliers did the unthinkable — they knocked off No. 2 seed South Johnston, advancing to the second round of the NCHSAA State 3-A Football Tournament after clipping the Cape Fear Valley Conference champion Trojans 24-21 on Friday night.

For a program that seems on the verge of breaking a school record each time it steps onto the field, Southern Lee won its first playoff game in school history and sent the biggest shock wave through the entire state of North Carolina, becoming the highest seed to win in the first round in any of the eight tournaments.

“I’m so proud of the guys,” said Cavaliers star running back Raymond Brown, who rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries. “We’ve worked so hard, practiced so hard. We knew we were ready. I’m just speechless. This is just an incredible feeling.”

The Cavaliers (7-5) never trailed, taking a 7-0 lead on James Butler’s 9-yard run with 10:57 remaining in the second quarter to take that same lead into the half.

The scoring picked up mightily in the second half, and after a wild opening minute of the third quarter that featured three turnovers, both teams settled in and traded scores.

Southern Lee led by 10 points twice, setting another school record with the first field goal in the program’s history, a 23-yarder by Cameron Reed, who didn’t even begin the season as the placekicker.

As the final seconds ticked down, South Johnston (10-2) unable to do a thing about them, most of the Cavaliers raised their hands to the air in triumph. The visiting sideline emptied as the clock showed zeros, the team rushing to the middle of the field to celebrate in a stadium in  which they lost 40-14 a year ago to a team that beat them 29-25 in Sanford on Oct. 5.

“These kids are amazing. And they’ve done amazing things all year,” said Cavaliers coach Bryan Lee. “And one of the most amazing things they did was that they came to practice this week, and it didn’t matter to them that they were a No. 15 seed. It didn’t matter that most of them were just second-year varsity football players and it didn’t matter that they had to go on the road to face the No. 2 seed.

“I’m just elated, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. We did it. That team over there was our conference’s champ, and they’re putting their equipment up for the year. I don’t mean any disrespect by that, but it’s incredible to think that we made that happen.”

South Johnston coach Joe Salas, who said following the Trojans’ win in Sanford that Southern Lee would be dangerous in the first round, was unavailable for comment.

Jeremy McLeod, after playing lockdown defense on star wide receiver Dee Walden in the first half, returned to the offense in the second half and rushed eight times for 89 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run that gave the Cavaliers a 14-0 lead with 4:20 remaining in the third quarter.

South Johnston answered quickly with an 18-yard run by Tony Davis to cut the margin to seven 30 seconds before the end of the third period, but Southern Lee’s Joey Cherry pounced on an onside kick to give the Cavaliers possession near midfield.

Southern Lee managed to move the ball inside the 5-yard line, but on fourth-and-1, Lee sent out the kicking unit for only the second field goal attempt of the season.

Reed made the decision a good one, splitting the uprights for a 17-7 with 6 minutes to go.

“Our special teams have taken a beating all year long,” Lee said. “But we got every onside kick, we made every extra point and Cameron’s field goal was the difference in the game.”

But South Johnston wasn’t done.

The Trojans scored in two plays and needed only 30 seconds, getting an 8-yard touchdown run from Josh Snead to make it 17-14. That brought South Johnston closer to the Cavaliers than they had been in the entire game with 5:25 left.

Again, the Cavaliers snapped up the onside kick try, this time it was Demetrius McIver hauling it in. Then it was McLeod’s turn again. The shifty back who was the team’s leading rusher as a freshman during its junior varsity season three years ago went 30 yards on one play and then scored from 5 yards out to give Southern Lee another 10-point edge, 24-14, with 3:05 to go.

“I was fresh in the second half,” McLeod said. “Raymond told me I had to step up, and I stepped up.”

South Johnston answered once more, getting a fortuitous pass interference penalty on fourth down to keep the drive alive before Pat Dunigan hooked up with Walden for a 25-yard touchdown.

Still ahead by three, Princeton Tabon caught the third onside kick try, and after a first down, the Cavaliers could begin dreaming about the second round.

“There are a lot of teams sitting at home now and we’re in the second round,” Lee said. “Anybody who still has doubts, shouldn’t. But we’d like to plant our flag here and keep on going. That’s our plan.”

And with each step, the Cavaliers will be making history.

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February 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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