South Johnston’s varsity football team rallied with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 20-19 at rival Triton on Triton’s Senior Night on Friday.
“These guys right here are amazing to coach,” said South Johnston coach Matthew Riggsbee. “I don’t care about the win. I don’t care about the loss. We’re out here doing this thing. We’re getting the chance to do what we love. They love each other. They play hard for each other. Teams in the past, we’re down two scores and we might have shut down. These guys didn’t. They kept fighting, kept clawing back and took the lead at the end of the game and held it.”
“It is such a tough team to play for a couple of reasons. One, they are very well coached on both sides of the ball. Number two, when you add a bunch of speed with that misdirection, dangerous things happen. (Malachi Batts) is still running in my nightmares tonight. They had a great game plan. They played well. I’m just happy that we had the offseason that we had. This win came off of the back of the month of January. These guys were put through hades and back in January. We didn’t even touch a football. And I really think the better shaped team won at the end of the game.”
Triton coach Ben Penny saw improvements from the Hawks’ first game, but said being unable to pressure the quarterback on defense was a big factor.
“We were shut out last week and we got better tonight on offense,” Penny said. “South Johnston was flying hard to the football and defensively we just couldn’t get any pressure up front. Their offensive line played well. Any offensive line coached by Ashley Ennis is going to be prepared and ready to roll. We tried to compensate for our guys being out (injuries in the secondary) by getting some pressure and just couldn’t get back there. They capitalized off of it and made some big plays down the stretch.”
Senior Chase Carroll completed 15-of-29 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, and ran for 14 yards and a touchdown on six carries to lead the Trojans (1-1). His leading receiver was junior C.J. Redmond, with four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Kysheem Green ran for 79 yards and a touchdown on three carries. Damonte Burgess ran for 49 yards on 13 carries and had a six-yard reception. Isaiah Harris had three receptions for 34 yards. Omarion Garrett had three receptions for 24 yards. Brayden Barefoot ran for 12 yards on four carries and had two receptions for 12 yards. Tay Watson had two receptions for five yards.
Riggsbee was pleased to see a major improvement in South’s offensive line and cited them as a major factor in the win.
“We’ve got a group of offensive linemen that are undersized,” Riggsbee said. “When we step off of the bus, we are going to be the smallest team every time. But these guys want it so bad. They want to be good so bad. Our last game and our scrimmage before that, they took it personal that lack of success was because of them. They worked their butts off in practice. They’re just getting better. I’m real proud of them.”
Senior Malachi Batts ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and had a 32-yard reception to lead the Hawks (0-2).
“He’s playing his heart out,” Penny said. “He didn’t come off the field tonight. Tonight was really his breakout game.”
Malik McNeill ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. J.P. Petoletti was 1-of-5 passing for 32 yards, with no interceptions, and ran for 37 yards on 11 carries. Kyle Dunkins ran for eight yards on six carries. Treyshaun Eastman had a one-yard run.
Penny said the Hawks were hampered by some key injuries and were unable to get someone to step up and fill the gaps.
“We were dropping like flies in the second half,” Penny said. “Malik (McNeill) and Dylan (Smith) didn’t play much in the second half. And with two of our better defensive and offensive players on the sideline, we kind of stalled out. Malachi (Batts) carried the offense on his shoulders in the second half. We were very thin and had some JV guys out there in the second half. We’ve got to get healthy and the next guy up has got to be ready for it. There’s no excuse for it, the next guy up has got to be ready. We became very one dimensional when (McNeill) came out and we just weren’t prepared for that. And we’ve got to do a better job being prepared for that.”
Prior to the game, Triton honored 18 football seniors: Malachi Batts, Ramsey Jones, Dylan Smith, J.P. Petoletti, Ira Matthews, Kyle Dunkins, Davion Williams, Julian Goodman, Xavion Richardson, Amir Wynn, Joseph Warren, Braxton Herring, Diontae Smith, Detwanne White, Alex Allen, Josh Hudson, Jamarion McNeill and Spencer Herring.
After a scoreless first quarter, Triton was the first team on the board when a Ramsey Jones interception in the end zone led to Batts scoring on a 75-yard run. The extra point attempt was no good. Triton continued to hold a 6-0 lead at halftime.
After South’s defense held Triton to a three-and-out to start the second half, the Trojans tied the game when Carroll connected with Redmond for a 46-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt was no good.
Triton reclaimed the lead late in the third quarter when McNeill just stretched the ball across the goal line at the end of a five-yard run. Carter Daughtry made the extra point to give the Hawks a 13-6 lead.
Triton scored again early in the fourth on a 36-yard run from Batts. The conversion attempt was no good and Triton 19-6.
On the ensuing drive, Carroll scored on a two-yard keeper and Burgess ran for the two-point conversion to cut the Lead to 19-14.
On a fourth-and-three late in the fourth, Green broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown run to give South the 20-19 lead. The conversion attempt failed.
Triton got good field position on the ensuing possession after Petoletti returned the kickoff to the Trojans’ 46-yard-line. But South’s defense held strong, forcing a turnover on downs after a sack from Lucas Layman on fourth down that gave South the ball with 1:30 left. Triton had just one timeout left, so South was able to run out the clock to end the game.
Both teams start conference play on Friday. Triton travels to Tri-County Six 3-A Conference for Lee County (2-0) and South Johnston is at Greater Neuse 3-A Conference and Johnston County rival Clayton (2-0).