Fuquay-Varina's Ricky Fergerson scores a touchdown against Middle Creek during the second quarter. TRAVIS LONG - email@example.com
FUQUAY-VARINA -- The Fuquay-Varina home crowd was growing nervous. A 23-point third-quarter lead over rival Middle Creek was down to five midway through the fourth — and the Mustangs were in the red zone.
But the Bengals forced their fourth turnover of the game at the most opportune time. Linebacker Justin Vaughan stepped in front of a Garrett Leatham throw to end the Mustangs' final trip inside the 20. Fuquay held on for the 26-21 win, giving them the possibility of sharing the Tri-Nine Conference title.
"Coach [Ryan] Habich taught me that route," Vaughan, a senior, said. "I just faked the quarterback out, came back in and got the pick. I thought I was gone but someone hawked me down."
Cory Hunter started off the Fuquay scoring as his first-quarter, one-yard plunge into the end zone gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead. On their next possession, the Bengals scored again as Ricky Fergerson scored an 8-yard touchdown.
The game seemed destined for a blowout as Fuquay added a 29-yard Evan McNeil screen pass to Fergerson to make it 21-0 at half.
On Middle Creek's first possession of the third quarter, a wild snap on a punt attempt went through the end zone to put Fuquay up 23-0.
Then the Mustangs got rolling.
"[Middle Creek] made some plays in the second half and we didn't execute, we played sloppy," Habich said. "But we found a way to win. ... Our defense made a play when they had to make a play."
Middle Creek got a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Daquan Render, which was answered by a 17-yard field goal by Fuquay's Jonathan Furr.
Leatham, who finished 19-of-31 for 167 yards, kept the Mustangs alive by leading his team to another score, this time a 14-yard strike to Kevin Jones.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Middle Creek defensive end Darius Wilkins ran in a pick-6 from 34 yards out after stepping in front of a McNeil screen pass. The Mustangs only needed a touchdown to take the lead.
And that nearly happened.
But Vaughan's pick all but sealed it for the Bengals. Sophomore Garrett Suggs added two more interceptions for Fuquay.
"We made a couple of mistakes early and it took awhile for us to get into the flow of the game. By then, they had a pretty good head start," Middle Creek coach Sean Crocker said. "Turnovers are a part of the game and we made our share, but we fought back and gave ourselves a chance."
Whether it's gone by the name of the Tri-Seven, Tri-Eight or Tri-Nine Conference, Middle Creek and Fuquay-Varina have combined to win at least a share of the championship in every season since 2005.
"Our communities are so close and we share a lot of neighborhoods. It's a game that our players have no problems getting up for. That's one game where, if you go to Fuquay, you've got to win every year," Habich said.
Both teams entered the game with only one conference loss, which means the loser was eliminated from conference title contention.
Fuquay can grab a co-conference championship with a win next Friday at Lee County. It can have the top seed from the Tri-Nine going into NCHSAA playoffs if Cary defeats Panther Creek that same week.