A big tackle, a running back who wouldn’t be stopped, and a dependable kicker are the reasons why South Mecklenburg remains a contender in the South Meck 4A Conference title race.
The Sabres stopped Olympic on a key fourth-down play, then drove for a decisive field goal Friday night in a 31-29 victory.
Instead of falling two games out of first place and seeing its playoff hopes endangered, South Mecklenburg (6-2, 2-1) is part of a three-way tie with Olympic (5-2, 2-1) and Ardrey Kell (5-2, 2-1) for second place in the conference.
First-place Myers Park (6-2, 3-0) still must play South Mecklenburg and Olympic.
“It’s a bunch of kids who wouldn’t give up, who don’t know how to give up,” Sabres’ head coach Joe Evans said. “We made that big stop, drove the ball, and our great kicker won it for us. It took everyone to step up.”
The game was full of twists and turns, but it was decided in the final four minutes.
Up 29-28, Olympic drove from its 24 to the South Mecklenburg 40. The Sabres’ defense stiffened, and the Trojans went for it on fourth-and-4 with 3:45 left.
South Mecklenburg’s defense, led by linebacker Matt Reddick, stopped Olympic quarterback Elijah Holmes 2 yards short of the first down.
Starting from their 38 with 3:39 left, the Sabres marched 45 yards in 12 plays, eating up all but 22.5 seconds of the fourth quarter. Senior running back Jacob Newman carried seven times in that drive for 32 of his game-high 243 yards. Olympic keyed on him, knowing he was likely to get the ball. But Newman repeatedly broke tackles for significant gains.
The drive stalled at the Trojan 17, and the Sabres called on senior kicker Zane Davis for a 35-yard field goal. Davis’ kick was plenty long enough and a few yards inside the right upright.
“For Zane, that was normal,” Newman said. “I always have confidence in Zane when he kicks — whether it’s in practice or in a game.”
Newman said the Sabres were fueled by wanting to win on Senior Night.
Of the 55 players on South Mecklenburg’s roster, 29 are seniors, including Reddick, Newman and Davis.
“We really wanted the seniors to go out on a winning note,” Newman said. “That’s why this game was important to us.”
Both teams showed resilience.
The Sabres drove for an early touchdown, but Olympic scored twice for a 15-7 lead. Then South Mecklenburg scored 21 straight points and had a seemingly comfortable 28-15 lead after a 34-yard Newman touchdown run with 4:25 left in the third quarter.
But the Trojans came back. Sterling Greene ran back the kickoff 99 yards for a score, and Olympic moved ahead 29-28 when Quentin Talford picked off a Sabre pass and returned it 3 yards for a touchdown with 9:11 to play.
“We weren’t going to allow ourselves to lose this game,” Reddick said. “We talked about it on the sidelines. We were determined to come back and win.”
Three who made a difference
Matt Reddick, South Mecklenburg: A senior linebacker, Reddick had three sacks and two tackles for loss. He also pressured Olympic quarterback Elijah Holmes several times in the fourth quarter.
Jacob Newman, South Mecklenburg: Newman rushed 34 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He had 141 of those yards in the second half.
Zayvion Floyd, Olympic: A senior linebacker, Floyd led the Trojan defense throughout the night. He had an interception, two tackles for loss, and tackled Jacob Newman and stopped him on a fourth-down run.
▪ Olympic’s defense hounded South Mecklenburg quarterback Cam Reese all night, picking off three passes and pressuring him repeatedly. But Reese had a key pass completion and a 5-yard run on the final drive, helping set up Zane Davis’ field goal.
▪ South Mecklenburg’s defense stiffened in the second half. Olympic had 185 yards of offense in the first half, and 75 in the second half.
▪ Olympic quarterback Elijah Holmes had a good night overall. He completed 13-of-24 passes, with one interception, for 170 yards. He ran for a touchdown and threw for another.
▪ Penalties hurt each team. Olympic was whistled 11 times for 110 yards, and South Mecklenburg had 71 yards in penalties.
▪ Olympic running back Nashawn Pritchett, who was effective in the first half, was injured in the third quarter and didn’t return.
▪ South Mecklenburg beat Olympic 56-28 in 2018, but the Trojans won in 2019 and last spring, holding the Sabres to a touchdown or less each time.
Olympic continues its journey through the heart of its South Meck 4A Conference schedule next Friday, traveling to Ardrey Kell. And South Mecklenburg has a tough test, traveling to conference leader Myers Park next Friday.
Olympic 0 15 7 7 — 29
South Mecklenburg 7 7 14 3 — 31
SM: Jake Brennan 15 run (Zane Davis kick)
O: Elijah Holmes 25 run (Holmes run)
O: Jadin Blackwell 29 pass from Holmes (Andrew Caudle kick)
SM: Jacob Newman 11 run (Davis kick)
SM: Newman 6 run (Davis kick)
SM: Newman 34 run (Davis kick)
O: Sterling Greene 99 kickoff return (Caudle kick)
O: Quentin Talford 3 interception return (Caudle kick)
SM: Davis FG 35