Saturday, December 10, 2022

East Duplin Survives Against Reidsville to Claim 2A Crown

CHAPEL HILL – Battle Holley’s East Duplin Panthers have scraped by in a few contests this season, including two against county rival Wallace-Rose Hill, but no game was closer for Holly’s squad than Saturday’s title game against Reidsville, the state’s winningest team. Guided by Avery Gaby’s 184 rushing yards and a timely play by safety Elam Moore, the Panthers were able to hang on for a 24-21 victory and the 2A state championship.

East Duplin took the opening kickoff and drove sixty yards down the field, with Avery Gaby’s clutch fourth down run extending the drive when it looked like the Panthers would be stopped. Gaby punched it in two plays later to give East Duplin an early 7-0 lead. Reidsville looked to respond but was forced to put after a penalty took the Rams out of a favorable fourth down conversion attempt. The subsequent punt was downed at the one-yard line.

East Duplin was able to put together a twelve-play drive, but two false start penalties stalled the Panthers’ progress and they were forced to punt. Reidsville’s offensive woes continued, and the Rams punted again. Playing out the script from the previous drive, East Duplin was methodically driving down the field, getting in the red zone, and looking to take a two-score lead before Reidsville defensive back Que’shyne Flippen ripped the ball out of the East Duplin runner’s arms at the four-yard-line and Jaden McCain picked it up for Rams, returning it sixteen yards. The Rams saw a chance to finally grab some momentum before the half and took it with a fourteen-play, eighty-one-yard drive, getting on the scoreboard with no time remaining on an Al Lee pass to Dionte Neal.

Reidsville seemed poised to ride the momentum into a lead on their first drive of the second half, but an East Duplin defense held the Rams to a field goal attempt. In what would be the most bizarre play on the day, the field goal was blocked and the ball bounced back to the Reidsville holder who did not seem to know that the ball was live. An alert Elam Moore grabbed the ball out of the Reidsville player’s hands and raced seventy yards the other way for the Panthers score.

As Reidsville looked to get back in the game, a Rams pass was tipped and hauled in by Breckin Bowles. The Reidsville defense stepped up and held the Panthers to a twenty-six-yard Darwin Bonilla field goal, keeping the margin at ten points going into the final quarter. The Rams defense stepped up again early in the fourth quarter, stopping East Duplin on downs and setting up a forty-yard Lee to Dionte Neal touchdown pass to make it a three-point game.

It was now up to the East Duplin offense to try and put the game away. In the first half, it was the Panthers’ penalties keeping them out of scoring position and keeping Reidsville in the game. On this final East Duplin drive, it was Rams penalties bailing out the Panthers. East Duplin thought they were putting the game out of reach when Zack Brown’s first completed pass found Kade Kennedy to put the Panthers up ten points, but Reidsville’s Dionte Neal ran the ensuing kickoff back for the Rams touchdown. An illegal touch penalty on the onside kick gave the ball to East Duplin who was able to run out the clock and claim the school’s first football state title.