Visiting Sanderson rallied in the second half as Triton’s varsity football team fell 37-28 on Friday night.
“I can’t say how proud I am of this football team right now,” said Triton coach Ben Penny. “We came together this week and we got better. We got a lot better. That’s a good football team and we stood up with them and we played with them and we took the lead. We had a lot of guys go down tonight. We had a lot of guys step up. I couldn’t be more proud of that group in the locker room right now as a head football coach, fighting like they did tonight.”
Sophomore Camauri McDougald, the Hawks’ leading rusher from the week prior, was unavailable because of an injury. In addition, Triton (0-2) suffered injuries to several key players throughout the game.
“We played the majority of the second half without Malik (McNeill) and J.J. (Cowan),” Penny said. “Camauri’s out. He didn’t dress tonight. A lot of key guys down. But rather than use that as an excuse, I’m going to say that these guys stepped up and the guys that came in tonight, Wyatt Avery, Carter (Daughtry), Jalon Crenshaw, Shyheim Cooke, guys that stepped up that are scout team players and practice players and they went out there tonight and they played and they played good football for us. And we almost got the job done with those guys. We’ve just got to see what we’ve got moving forward. I’ve got a couple of guys that are probably going to have to go to the hospital tonight. I’m going to have to go check on them. But I’m so proud of this team tonight, the way that they fought.”
Junior Jalen Evans was 2-of-7 passing for 100 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, senior Malik McNeill ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries before leaving the game with a leg injury and junior Carter Daughtry had a 79-yard touchdown reception and was a perfect 4-for-4 kicking extra points to lead the Hawks.
J.J. Cowan ran for 55 yards on 11 carries. Eligah Holmes ran for 36 yards on three carries. Ja’Quavis Jackson ran for 29 yards and a touchdown on six carries. James Shaw had a 21-yard reception. Kaylon Foster had a seven-yard carry. Brandon Watts ran for five yards on two carries.
Junior Drew Taintor was 22-of-37 passing for 204 yards and a touchdown and ran for 20 yards and a touchdown on five carries and junior Zion Myers ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries to lead the Spartans (1-0).
The momentum shifted fully in Sanderson’s favor on a blown call late in the third quarter. Leading 21-17 at the time, Triton was forced to punt, but the ball hit a Sanderson player’s helmet and was eventually recovered by Shaw at the Spartans’ six-yard-line. But one official overruled the call, saying the ball had hit a Triton player first. Instead of Triton’s ball in a goal line situation, with the addition of an unsportsmanlike conduct call against Penny for his heated argument against the call, Sanderson got the ball on its own 40-yard-line and scored on the drive on a five-yard Zay Donaldson run.
Triton responded on the ensuing drive when Daughtry got behind the defense and Evans connected with him for a 79-yard score.
But Sanderson took the lead for good on the following drive on a five-yard Myers touchdown run. He later scored one more on the final play of the game on a 16-yard run.
Penny was pleased with the way several of his injured players continued to contribute from the sideline, trying to rally teammates and the home crowd.
“That’s what you want to see as a head coach,” Penny said. “You want to see those guys that are out that can’t go that are rallying.”
Penny saw a resemblance to a home game against South Johnston last season in which the Hawks fell to a late rally. After that loss, Triton, then 0-2, rallied to win four of their last five games.
“It was a very similar situation with a late lead and some key guys going out,” Penny said. “The difference tonight was we had some guys step up and they played well.”
Sanderson is at home against Harnett Central (0-2) on Tuesday. Triton travels to Bunn (1-0) to wrap up its nonconference schedule on Friday.