By DAVID JUSTICE
CARY - Just as soon as underdog Halifax Academy rallied to briefly hold the lead early in the fourth quarter, what Vikings coach Brian Biggerstaff feared the most happened.
Cary Christian star runningback Sam Casucci broke away for touchdown runs of 49, 45, and 96 yards in the final quarter to lift the Knights to a 48-34 win in the NCISAA eight-man football playoffs. Cary (8-2) is seeded second behind Raleigh Word of God. The Knights will host either Northeast Academy or St. David's next week in the state semi-finals.
"That runningback is very good," Biggerstaff said. "You've got to plan your game with an emphasis on him, but he's so good and it's hard to beat speed."
Cary jumped ahead 27-6, but the 3-6 Vikings, with just 12 players active on the roster posted three straight scores to take a 28-27 lead with 11:22 left in the game.
"I wish I had the answer," Cary coach Dell Cook said. "We were just playing too tentative, too flat. We have a lot of seniors out there and there may have been a lot of pressure on them and we may have found ourselves playing not to lose."
The Knights defense then came up with an interception and two fumble recoveries on the Vikings' next three possessions. Calvin Winfrey had on recovery and Casucci, playing linebacker, had the other recovery and the interception.
"The defense was very opportunistic, did a lot of bending but not breaking this game," Cook said. "Sam, Calvin, and Ben Jacobson made big plays on defense."
Casucci also had an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown with just 11 seconds left in the half and rushed for 237 yards on 11 carries.
"Sam is tough, smart, quick, he has all the tools out there. We look to him when we need a play and he usually makes it," Cook said.
"We started the year with 14 players and have 12 now," Biggerstaff said. "But they've battled all year, just like this game. Just a mistake here, a turnover there, that's been our problem. But Cary Christian is very good and gets a lot of respect from around the league."
Matthew Daum got the Knights on the board early, scoring on a 35-yard run on his team's first play from scirmmage. Quarterback Dante DiMaggio threw a pair of touchdown passes, a 74-yarder to Keith Hylwa and a 16-yarder to Daniel MacPherson.