Fuquay-Varina's Terence Tart (45) tries to stop Panther Creek's (21) Isaiah Johnson in the second quarter. ROBERT WILLETT - email@example.com
See a photo gallery from the game.
CARY - Panther Creek and Fuquay-Varina started off as if they were engaging in another shootout. Instead, a second-half shutout was the difference.
The Catamounts defeated their Tri-Nine Conference foe for the second time this year, holding Fuquay to zero second-half points to come from behind to win 35-28 in the second round of the 4-AA football playoffs.
With each passing week, the program is going where no previous P.C. team has gone before.
"I told the kids at the beginning of the year — if we're practicing on Thanksgiving — that's when you become a big-time program," Panther Creek coach Wayne Bragg said.
Despite having two of the top defenses in the area, the two teams have failed to stop one another in the previous two seasons, each team averaging more than 39 points per game over their head-to-head meetings.
"It's becoming a heck of the game," Bragg said. "It's a great rivalry to have."
The two teams scored on the first five drives of the game, and had just one punt the first half.
But Panther Creek (12-1) shut down Fuquay's rushing attack in the second half. After allowing 293 yards on the ground in the first two quarters, the Bengals (11-2) mustered just a handful of first downs in the second half.
"We came out and buckled down," P.C. linebacker Khari Mincey said. "We knew we had to step up."
And that meant stopping Cory Hunter, who scored on Fuquay's first two drives. He ends his career with more than 5,800 yards rushing. His three-year total of 91 touchdowns on the ground is tied for 10th-most in state history.
"He's not just a tremendous player but a great kid and a great student-athlete. He's good for high school football," Fuquay-Varina coach Ryan Habich said. "I can't say enough about Cory Hunter and the rest of these seniors."
Ricky Fergerson added a 37-yard scamper to give Fuquay three first-half rushing scores.
Kameron Bryant's 50-yard run set up a 2-yard scoring run by Jonathan Douglas to give the Catamounts its first score. Bryant added touchdown passes to tight end Daniel Beillinson and Isaiah Johnson in the first half.
Panther Creek remains the only team to score more than 21 points on Fuquay all year — and they did it twice. A big reason was its punishing offensive line of Aaron Norris, Jake Rorick, Hunter Downs, Mike Sutton and Jeremy Plunkett.
With nine seconds on the clock and the game tied at 21-all, Fuquay went into its bag of tricks to take momentum going into half.
Quarterback Evan McNeil found wideout Travis Long, who flipped the ball back to Ricky Fergerson on a 14-yard hook-and-lateral for touchdown. It was the final play of the half, giving the Bengals a 28-21 lead at half.
But Panther Creek got the ball first in the third quarter, and marched it down the field. Douglas scored on a draw play from 47 yards out, reversing field against the Fuquay defense to tie the game up at 28.
"We knew if we could come out and score on that first drive it was a tied ball game again," Bragg said. "It's 0-0, so let's go play."
The score carried over into the fourth quarter, when Bryant went deep to Matt Williams — who evaded one tackler before taking in for six — to end the game's scoring with 9:59 left.
Fuquay-Varina's final drive was ended by a Trevor Yost interception.
Panther Creek will travel to Fayetteville Seventy-First for next week's third round game.
"At this time of year, it doesn't matter where you play," Bragg said. "You've just got to go out there and get it done."