Triton overcame a halftime deficit to snatch the last-minute victory over Overhills Friday, marking its first in-county win of the season.
SPRING LAKE — Triton defensive end Nate McKoy has watched his team hold first-quarter leads in each of the previous three games leading up to Friday's road tilt with Overhills.
Those matchups ended with his teammates suffering through heartbreaking collapses, but the junior captain was determined to change the narrative in Spring Lake.
"It's all about keeping the same energy. When you get down, we got to come back up," McKoy said following a come-from-behind, 21-20 win that halted the skid.
"It's all about momentum in football ... we kept the energy up– started to turn up– and the scoreboard showed it."
The scoreboard didn't display a favorable result for Triton (2-6, 2-3 All American Conference) through the first three quarters Friday as Overhills (3-5, 3-3) quarterback Jordan Bryant continued his hot play of late.
Bryant finished 17-of-33 passing for 231 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a rushing score in the first to put the Jags up 7-0.
The freshman starter connected with Isaiah Page in the second quarter for a 40-yard TD, then hit Christian Daniel for a 24-yard score in the third to extend the margin to 20-7.
But those would be the Jags' final points of the contest as Triton coach Ben Penny was pleased to see the Hawks defense answer a heartfelt plea from the coaching staff.
"We had opportunities to make several plays in the secondary ... at halftime, we just challenged the guys to step up and start making some plays in the second half and they did. I'm very proud of them," Penny said.
The Hawks forced Bryant into three interceptions throughout the night with, arguably, none larger than a late third-quarter pick by Noah Jackson.
With the Jags driving into scoring position, Bryant fired a bullet over the middle but the ball was tipped at the line, giving Jackson ample time to drop back in coverage and fall underneath it.
The team's biggest offensive play came just before the interception as Triton’s Camauri McDougald, who ended with a team-leading two rushing touchdowns, burst through the middle for a 72-yard sprint to the end zone to cut the deficit to 20-14.
"You can't make a mistake against that type of offense. A big run could pop off at any time," said first-year Overhills coach Kerry Bacon.
McDougald's second score came with just 3:49 left in the fourth, as he took a jet sweep to the right side for a 1-yard plunge– giving Triton its first and only lead.
The go-ahead touchdown gave way for McKoy to virtually seal the victory on the ensuing series, as he used all of his 6-foot-3 frame to bully through the line and take down Bryant on a third-and-10 play with just over two minutes left.
"You got to stop them. It's third and long– that's when the energy got to be high. You got to just turn that dog on," McKoy said.
The Overhills defense would hold on the possession to follow, giving the ball back to Bryant and the offense for one final drive with 1:03 left.
A defensive pass interference got the Jags into enemy territory, but McKoy and company thwarted off a late scoring drive as Bryant's hail mary with ticks left fell incomplete.
"I thought we were doing whatever we wanted to do, but we just didn't put the ball in the box (end zone)," Bacon said of the second-half struggles.
"We had control of the game, but only scored seven points (in the second half)."
With its three-game win streak snapped, Overhills now looks to next Friday's season finale at Pine Forest, with the winner guaranteed a state playoff berth.
For Triton, though its postseason hopes are slim to none, bragging rights within the county are still on the line as matchups with Western Harnett and Harnett Central next week close the fall slate.
"One down, two more to go," McKoy said bluntly.
"One day at a time. We got to rest these next three days and come back ready Tuesday at Western Harnett."
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910 230-2040.