Call them a little bit lucky.
But above all, call them Western Regional champions.
The AC Reynolds Rockets withstood a wild couple of minutes as Greensboro Dudley drove to the 2 and appeared to be heading to a state championship game for a third straight year.
But in the end Reynolds kept its poise, and when defensive back Damien Martin knocked away a pass with 15 seconds left, the Rockets knew they were bound for Raleigh after a 9-8 win in a hard-hitting NCHSAA 4-A regional title game here Friday night.
â€œThese kids, their heart is so big, they’re so tough, they always give great effort, they wanted this so bad,â€ said Rockets coach Shane Laws, who had trouble hiding tears after leading the Rockets to their first regional title since 2002.
Reynolds advanced to the 4-A title, which will be at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh next Saturday. The Rockets will play the winner of today’s game between New Hanover and Harnett Central.
The Rockets (13-2) trailed 8-0 at half after the offense gained just 17 yards and gave up a safety. While the offense struggled the defense was solid, allowing just a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Moore to Devarris Martin with 3:23 left in the first half.
The Rockets’ defense came out and stopped Dudley (13-2) on two three and outs and picked up a safety of its own after a poor snap on a punt in the third quarter.
The Rockets’ offense finally showed some life when Caleb Pressley hooked up on a 41-yard pass play with Cody Owenby, who gained 25 yards after the catch for a first down to the 9.
â€œWe talked at halftime about needing one big play and we got it,â€ said Pressley, who was chased by the Dudley defense for most of the game.
On the next play, A.J. Marion went around the right side for a 9-yard score to tie the game at 8-8.
The Rockets’ kicking game has been spotty all season but Austin Pelle sneaked the ball over the cross bar to give the Rockets a 9-8 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
The defense continued to challenge Dudley, which entered the game having won the last two 3-AA championships.
â€œWe just kept playing hard, kept pressuring them,â€ said Rockets linebacker Courtland Clavette.