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An inspired Fike High varsity football team played too good to lose on a homecoming Friday night in the Fike High stadium.
But Rocky Mount, the Golden Demons’ oldest rival, found a way to win.
The result before a stunned Fike turnout was a heartbreaking 8-7 Fike loss in a 3-A Big East Conference dandy.
The Gryphons, in retaining a share of the conference lead with undefeated Southern Nash, scored their touchdown and decisive two-point conversion with a minute and 57 seconds remaining.
But the celebration was delayed until Fike’s Max Fogleman missed just wide left on a 23-yard field-goal attempt with a mere 14 seconds remaining.
Another gut-wrenching defeat left Fike 1-2 in the conference and 3-6 overall with two games remaining. The Gryphons vaulted to 3-0 in the Big East and to 7-2 against all foes going into next Friday’s showddown against Southern Nash.
Fike head coach Tom Nelson struggled with his emotions in addressing his distraught team afterwards.
“How do you lose that game?” Nelson asked. “I apologized to (the team) for not being able to catch a break. We played too good to lose. The defense played awesome and the offense moved the football.”
The Demons received the opening kickoff and kept the football over five minutes in driving to a 7-0 margin.
Upset hopes spiraled when an interception from senior Fike defender Eli Pope ended a Gryphons’ threat at Fike’s 22-yard line midway the fourth quarter.
But the Demons were forced to punt and Rocky Mount assumed possession at its 42-yard line.
The Gryphons finally found success through the air as senior quarterback Jaquan Lynch connected to senior Jalen Powell and senior Mar’Quevion Ricks. The running of senior Tashaun Lawrence and junior Mckenly Hines set up Hines’ 2-yard TD plunge after the Gryphons picked up first-down yardage on fourth down
Rocky Mount didn’t hesitate to line up for the two-point conversion and, on a jet sweep left, Lawrence cut back left and stepped into the end zone.
“I saw him running outside,” reviewed stalwart junior Fike defender Jayleen Bulluck. “I thought we would get outside coverage, but he’s a good running back and he saw the open hole and knew how to cut back and score.”
Explained Rocky Mount head coach Jason Battle: “We had scored on an inside play and we knew they weren’t going to let us run between the tackles. They didn’t let us do it all night. We had to come up with something different.”
Fike, down 8-7, anything but crumbled behind the scrambling and passing of junior quarterback Jaiquan King, who directed the offense with sophomore Demari Daniels not available because of concussion protocol.
A 10-yard completion to senior Eli Pope resulted in a Fike first down at the Gryphons’ 7-yard line. More Rocky Mount penalties helped. But three passes fell incomplete and Fogleman’s field-goal attempt from 23 yards out sailed about four feet wide left.
Fike’s TD march featured the running of senior Curtis Bulluck and senior Michael Rand. Along the way, the Demons recovered two of their fumbles and King connected to senior Octavius Carpenter for 17 yards. Rand slammed the final yard and junior Bennett Goings kicked the extra point.
Late in the first half, Fike marched to a first down at Rocky Mount’s 3-yard line, but Pope dropped a fourth-down pass in the end zone.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, the Demons surprised Rocky Mount with a pass play. However, Carpenter, several yards behind the nearest Gryphons defender, stumbled and was unable to bring in a pass that had TD potential.
Bullock was joined by Pope, senior Chase Eaton, senior Jacob Powell and junior Lamont Batts in spearheading a Fike defense that limited the Gryphons to 47 yards total offense the first half.
Also, Fike was not assessed a penalty until early in the fourth quarter and wound up having three infractions marked off as compared to 15 for 111 yards for the Gryphons.
Rocky Mount opened the second half with a drive of more than eight minutes that produced no points when passes on third and fourth down fell incomplete.
“I would like to think we played our best defensive game,” Bullock declared. “We played a good team. I’m disappointed; I tried to do everything I could but, at the end, it was not meant to be.”
Battle praised his Rocky Mount players’ grit.
“This was our worst efficiency in the red zone,” he emphasized. “We stumped our toe with penalties and more penalties. It was just a myriad of things.
“But it was more of a testament to (Fike). They were very well prepared and played hard. They made great plays. It has never been easy coming over here. It was their homecoming and it was very difficult game to win. We’re just glad to get out of here with a win.”
Fike’s Nelson is ready for a shift in the law of averages and would appreciate divine intervention.
“I hate it for the kids,” he lamented. “They have been kicked in the gut, kicked in the gut and kicked in the gut. And they keep fighting back. All they can do is fret about it tonight and recover during the weekend.”