Morris’ Bulldogs stopped Spring Garden on fourth-and-2 on the Gaston 30-yard line late in the fourth quarter Friday night to secure a 14-13 win over the Panthers in the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs.
Though all the scoring came in the first half, the game was decided on that fourth-down stand with 1:28 remaining in the contest.
“I told the defense that we had to look at the 30-yard line like the goal line, because they have a kicker that when the ball crosses the 30 ... it’s on then,” Morris said.
Morris was referring to Spring Garden kicker Jake Scott, who earned a Class 1A honorable mention on the all-state team last season at the position. Scott has been very accurate from inside the 30-yard line this season and may have had the range to kick the game-winning field goal on the fourth-down play. Instead, the Panthers opted to run Trey Littlefield off tackle where the Bulldogs’ stuffed him for little gain.
Gaston had several opportunities to extend its lead in the second half, but two turnovers and a turnover on downs deep in Spring Garden territory kept the Panthers alive.
With the win, Gaston improved to 9-3 and will play Appalachian, which defeated Cedar Bluff 35-7, next week in the quarterfinals. Spring Garden’s season ends at 6-6.
Bulldog star running back, Demont Buice, should be able to play next week for the first time since suffering a broken ankle earlier in the season.
Buice dressed out against Spring Garden but did not see any action. As it turned out, Dustin Isbell and Adam Anderson provided plenty of offense in the win.
Isbell rushed 17 times for 133 yards and a score, while Anderson had seven carries for 124 yards.
Spring Garden led for much of the first half, as Scott’s 37-yard field goal with 4:36 remaining in the first quarter gave Spring Garden a 3-0 advantage.
Gaston struck back when Isbell scored on a 16-yard run on the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession. The drive covered 70 yards in just four plays and gave Gaston a 6-3 advantage. The two-point conversion failed.
Spring Garden regained the lead 1:28 later when Littlefield found the end zone. Littlefield’s 59-yard touchdown run capped a quick three-play, 69-drive drive. Scott’s PAT gave the Panthers a 10-6 lead. Littlefield ended the night with 152 yards rushing — 116 coming in the first half as the Bulldogs adjusted and contained him in the final two quarters.
Gaston took the lead for good when Collin Jarbo ran in from the 4-yard line with less than 5:00 remaining in the first half. Jordan McCartney’s pass to Adam Anderson for the two-point conversion gave the Bulldogs a four-point advantage.
That 14-10 lead held until just before halftime when Scott booted a 28-yard field goal to pull the Panthers within one at the break.