Pirates fall short

Porter Ridge loses first game of season in Class 4A title game

by Aaron Garcia

The Porter Ridge football team finished the season with a 14-1 record after falling to Laurinburg’s Scotland High, 41-16, in the Class 4A title game on Dec. 3. (C. Jemal Horton/UCW photo)

Just moments after time ran out in Porter Ridge’s 41-16 loss to Laurinburg’s Scotland High in the Class 4A state championships at Wake Forest University on Dec. 3, with tears rolling down many of his players’ faces, Pirates’ coach Blair Hardin stood in front of them and took a second to put things in perspective.

“This is just the beginning, you understand?” Hardin said to the players. “Look at what you’ve done in just four years, men!”

What the Pirates had done was cement themselves as one of the top programs in the state, a sentiment only supported by the state title game appearance. And though Hardin’s team lost for the first time this season that night, the players gave it quite the effort. The Pirates led the game, 13-6, at halftime and were down just 21-16 with 11 minutes to go in the game.

Senior quarterback Lee McNeill completed 20 of 29 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while running back Chris Duffy had 74 yards rushing on 20 carries. Receiver Zach Scarboro had one of the gutsiest performances of the year with seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown while taking several bruising first-half hits. Defensively, Jordan Oakley and Nick Vagnone each tallied six tackles and an interception. Oakley returned his 82 yards for a score, while Scarboro added a pick of his own.

But in the end, the Scots capitalized on a handful of fourth-quarter Pirate miscues to score 21 unanswered points and earn the win.

“We fought,” said Oakley. “We worked hard and we got where we wanted to. I wish we could’ve finished it out here, but we stuck together as a team the entire time.”

Still, the Pirates’ combined record of 28-2 the last two seasons (after recording an 0-11 record in 2008) speaks volumes about the program’s progress.

“I think it means we know what we need to do to get where we need to be, and we’ve taken the steps to do it,” said defensive end Justin Oldja of the impression his team left this season.

“I think over the past couple of years, people know (who Porter Ridge is) now,” said Hardin. “I guess we’ve established ourselves, hopefully, doing the right things.”

And though the loss was painful, Oakley said it doesn’t detract from Porter Ridge’s sudden turnaround as one of the state’s top programs.

“I’m so happy to be a part of it,” Oakley said. “The coaches, the teammates around me that supported me, the fans – it’s been the experience I wanted. This is a team I really wanted to be on. It gave me everything I wanted.”

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