CHAPEL HILL – For roughly 47 minutes and 30 seconds of the Class 4A state title tilt on Friday, Nov. 30, the night, and the year, appeared to belong to the Porter Ridge football team. In that stretch the Pirates built a 38-33 lead and, despite the narrow point margin, seemed to be in control after countering each of New Bern’s attempts at wresting away the game.
Instead, the Pirates came up 26 seconds short of school history when New Bern running back Jac Watkins pounded in the game-winning touchdown to give the Bears a 39-38 win at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium.
The score capped an 80-yard drive that spanned more than five minutes and included one fourth-down conversion, and two on third down, following a Porter Ridge field goal.
The Pirates got the ball back with 26 seconds remaining but a fourth-down interception ended Porter Ridge’s chances at its first state title. It was the second consecutive year the Pirates had fallen in the Class 4A championship game.
“We made plays, they made plays,” said coach Blair Hardin. “I guess it came down to who was going to make a play (at the end). Obviously, they’re a talented team and well-coached. Our kids played with them for four quarters. We just came up short.”
Offensively, the Pirates were paced by running backs Jerrick Robbins (175 yards rushing, one touchdown) and Chris Duffy (132 yards, three touchdowns), while Oregon recruit Matt Wogan added a 26-yard field goal. Robbins was named Porter Ridge’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
Pirates quarterback Isaiah Hicklin completed nine of his 18 passes for 106 yards, one interception and one touchdown to Luke Bayly, who led the team with four catches and 47 yards.
Defensively, senior linebacker Bruce Randall’s 18 tackles earned him the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award. Nick Vagnone added 11 tackles and recovered a fumble. Austin Moore also recorded 11 stops. The Pirates added interceptions by Duffy, Robbins and Xavier York.
The Pirates held Charlotte 49ers commit Watkins, who entered the game with more than 1,400 yards rushing, to just 66 yards but struggled to contain dual-threat quarterback Josh Taylor. The senior carried the ball 20 times for 156 yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ Option offense while completing 14 of his 21 passes for 160 yards. Taylor was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.
“We played a great football team,” said Duffy, also a Charlotte 49ers recruit. “We came out here, we had a great game plan, we executed. We scored the ball, they moved the ball – it was just a great football game. (Losing is) just what happens.”
Following the game, Hardin gathered his players and expressed his pride in their effort.
“I told our kids they’re champions,” Hardin said. “The way they compete and the way they handle themselves on and off the field, I said they’re champions. They have nothing to hang their heads about. I just couldn’t be any prouder of how they competed all year.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to even finish in the top of our conference. Just the way they responded each week with all the (adversity), I couldn’t be prouder of this bunch.”