Durham, N.C. – The 13th ranked, (10-5) Northern Guilford Nighthawks’ execution and perseverance through the first three rounds of the 3-AA East playoffs continued Friday night with the exception of a few key plays. Those plays proved critical as the 3rd ranked, (12-3), Southern Durham Spartans moved on to the state final game for the second time in three years.
Northern Coach Johnny Roscoe delivered a short and sweet post-game message, that could be his last, and the Nighthawks boarded their chartered bus as runner-ups in the 3-AA East final game.
Southern Durham showed up at Durham County Stadium, their home away from home, on a mission to shut down CJ Freeman and the Northern Guilford running game.
The Spartans rose to the occasion and held Freeman, who was averaging 265 in the playoffs, to just 101 yards on 20 carries in the game.
“We needed one stop. Our defensive line did an awesome job in doing their best to contain their run game,” Southern Durham head coach Darius Robinson said. “We had one play to make, and we made it. That’s the play that gave us the victory.”
Southern Durham opened the scoring with 5:46 remaining in the first quarter after a 6-play drive that saw a 22 and two 6-yard runs by Frazier Myron, the second of the 6-yard runs ended the drive with a touchdown.
Northern answered the score less than three minutes later, despite themselves, after four false start penalties on the drive. After two false start penalties in a row, Northern receiver Tucker Hord caught a 29-yard pass from Miles Timmons to get the Nighthawks into Spartan territory. On the following play, Timmons connected with Tristen Simmons for 25 yards and a touchdown with 2:58 remaining in the first quarter.
Coach Roscoe reached into his bag of tricks and the Nighthawks faked the extra point kick, with Freeman running untouched into the end zone for the two-point conversion. The score was 8-7 in favor of Northern at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams scored in the final minute of the first half.
Southern Durham’s score came first when Jordon Brown, who was moved to quarterback because Jalen Greene had a season-ending injury collarbone last week. Facing fourth and fifteen, Brown connected with Kaleb Barfield for 44 yards and the touchdown. Southern Durham’s attempt at a two-point conversion failed.
With 46 seconds left in the first half, on the kickoff after Southern Durham’s go-ahead score, Northern star running back -who is committed to the University of South Carolina- CJ Freeman, ran the kickoff back 23 yards and drew a late hit penalty to give the Nighthawks the ball on Southern Durham’s 21 yard line.
Fifteen seconds later, on the first play from scrimmage, Freeman dragged Southern Durham defenders into the end zone.
Southern Durham embarked on a 13-play drive to in the third quarter that was punctuated six minutes later by a 16-yard run by Jordon Brown that ended up being the game-winning score.
The Nighthawks’ offense fought resiliently in the fourth quarter, but were unable to surmount the Southern Durham defense. Facing 4th and 2 with two minutes remaining, Coach Roscoe put the ball in the hands of his star player, CJ Freeman. Unfortunately for Northern, and for Freeman, his knee hit the ground one yard short of another first down that would’ve kept the drive, and Northern’s attack going.
“Our goal is always the state championship at Northern,” an emotional Tucker Hord said post game. “Most teams’ goal is to reach the playoffs, and they feel like they had a great season. At Northern, our goal is to win the State Championship, and tonight we fell short of that.”
“This is just another routine game for me,” said Kaleb Barfield, who had three interceptions and one touchdown for Southern Durham.
Following the loss, his last game in purple and black for the Nighthawks, CJ Freeman was too upset to speak to members of the media. Freeman and the rest of the Nighthawks were devastated.
“It came down to one play for the whole year, but we cant say it was just that,” said a somber Johnny Roscoe who was being led off the field, and straight to the team bus by his wife.
With many around the county speculating that this is coach Roscoe’s final season as the leader of Nighthawk football, he told me “I’m not sure what will take place” when I asked about his return next season to his second home, the gridiron.
(SDR) Myron Frazier 6 run (Luis Vidal kick)
(NG) Tristen Simmons 25 pass from Miles Timmons (Freeman Run)
(SDR) Kaleb Barfield 44 pass from Jordon Brown (kick failed)
(NG) Freeman 21 run (Ethan Reeder kick)
(SDR) Brown 16 run (run failed)