INDIAN TRAIL – The Metrolina Christian football team did everything right on Nov. 16 in front of a more-than packed house, but a highly debatable call late allowed Country Day to come away with an improbable 17-14 win and the 2018 NCISAA Division II title, their first championship since 2010.
The Warriors had opened the game just as scripted. After a 41-yard run from Jack Crump, junior running back/receiver/defensive back/kick returner extraordinaire Jadus Davis took his second handoff of the game from the Country Day 4 yard line into the end zone for a 7-0 Warrior lead on their opening drive.
Davis would have a huge night, catching six passes for 106 yards and the score and running six times for 32 yards while also running two big kicks back, most notably his opening touch of the second half that immediately got the Warriors in great field position.
“He’s meant the world to us,” Metrolina coach Thomas Langley said following the game. “He’s a great kid. There’s not one time he’s done anything to hurt our team, he makes good grades and it’s all off-the-field stuff (as to what he means) because on the field you can see how good he is and what he brings. He’s our quiet leader.”
Even with Davis seeing a heavy workload, the Metrolina offense sputtered the rest of the first half with two 3-and-outs and two drives that soaked up some minutes on the clock, but failed to gain much as far as yardage.
Country Day, which had eliminated the Warriors in the opening round of the Division II playoffs last year in somewhat of a shootout, didn’t have their best offensive day either as the Warriors routinely stunted Buc drives and came away with big defensive plays in crucial situations.
But the Bucs did crack the scoreboard in the second quarter.
Country Day junior running back Quentin Cooper had Country Day’s first big play of the day with a 40-yard run that he followed up with a touchdown and a tie game with 11:59 to play.
Neither team could do much the rest of the half, but Country Day would go 12 plays for 94 yards before settling for an Edward Dellinger 17-yard field goal that put the Bucs up, 10-7 on their opening drive of the third quarter.
But, as scripted, the Warriors and Davis would come right back.
On the ensuing drive, quarterback Angel Gonzalez tossed a short screen to the left that Davis reeled in and used his state-champion track speed to outrun everyone down the sideline with a 67-yard touchdown that put Metrolina back on top 14-10 and seemingly in control of the game.
Country Day came right back, though, and got all the way to the Warrior 24-yard line on a 13-play, 43-yard drive.
But Dylan Fitch and then Colton Quick had stops to set up 3rd-and-5 from the 24. Then Indiana Moen stopped a Buc player for a loss that knocked Dellinger’s big leg out of field goal range.
After a stalled Warrior drive, the drama and controversy played out.
To that point, the game had moved incredibly clean with very few penalties called on either side. But that would change, and in a big way.
Country Day started at their own 26, but got big plays from Rylan McLaurin and Twan Flip, Jr. McLaurin was involved in a defensive pass interference that got the Bucs to the 14 yard line late.
The Bucs drove to the Warrior 8 yard line, but a holding penalty backed Country Day to the 22. After an incomplete pass, Country Day faced a 4th-and-19 with the game on the line.
Buc quarterback Russell Tabor rolled out right and then came left, eventually hoisting a prayer toward McLaurin in the end zone.
At least three flags were thrown on the play, and it appeared McLaurin may have caught the ball off a bounce. Either way, he was on his knees with the ball in his hands as the officials gathered for at least a minute or two after making no indication on the field of their initial call.
With both sidelines shouting their objections, the head referee announced an unsportsmanlike penalty against Metrolina Christian and said the touchdown was good, putting the Bucs up 17-14 with 1:09 to go.
“Our defense was up against a pretty good offense at Country Day with a big offensive line and skill guys that could really run it,” Langley said. “They came up with the stops when we needed. I thought that fourth down pass was incomplete, but the call didn’t go our way so that’s how it goes.”
Davis returned the ensuing kick 37 yards to the 40 yard line, but Warrior quarterback Myles Saxton, who had entered in the second half, threw three incompletions before Thomas Shields sealed the deal with an interception.
The loss, and especially the way it went down, is a tragic end to an otherwise great season for the Warriors, who started their varsity program with Langley in 2011.
“(I) hate that a state championship had to be taken away from my boys because of two missed calls on the same play,” Langley tweeted following the game.
It was a bitter end, but a fine season.
Metrolina went 8-4 and reached a title game for the first time ever.
Of the key contributors, the Warriors will lose Saxton and receivers Jett Townsend and Ben Titherington on offense. Quick, Cam Robinson, Jacob Hattaway, Josh Threatt and CJ Parker headline the defensive stars returning, but the Warriors have a lot of talent – including Davis, Jed Wooten, Colby Girard and 1,000-yard rusher Crump.
And that’s just on offense.
So while the loss — and especially the manner in which it occurred — will sting for a while, this could be just the beginning for a team that is most certainly trending up after an 8-4 season and the longest playoff run yet.
“I think it’s huge,” Langley said. “It gives us a little more notoriety and a little more publicity. I think people realize that we play football at a big-boy level, too. We’ve got some good players and we’re sending kids to Division I schools just like everyone else is. It’s a big stepping block, but this is just the next step.
“We lose four seniors on defense, but we have a lot of key pieces back and our whole secondary. We feel confident moving forward. We feel really confident.”