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Comets close, but fail to contain Eagles

SoVaNow.com / October 16, 2017
Because of a guy named Jamal Brandon, Halifax County came very close to ending a streak a football futility that began 15 years ago on a Friday the 13th in October.

But because of Franklin County guys named Kaleb (Smith), Shaun (Manns) and Jakob (Comer), a trio that combined to account for all but six points for the Eagles, the Comets’ long-time rival was able to extend what has been a home-field streak of success in Rocky Mount.

The Comets scored the game’s last 14 points, but they were stymied on fourth down at the end when the Eagles stopped a three-yard run by quarterback Ryan Moore on the last play of the game for a 35-28 triumph Friday. With the win, Franklin County (3-5, 2-1 Piedmont District), playing its final home game of the regular-season, stops a two-game losing streak and enhances its chances of qualifying for the Class 6 Region B playoffs which begin in four weeks.

All three of the Eagles’ wins to date are in games played at Dillon Stadium - versus Hidden Valley, Bassett and Halifax.

The loss erases the zero from the Comets’ league record and is their 13th setback in a row at Dillon Stadium since 1991, the last year Halifax won in Rocky Mount and the year it captured a state championship in football.

Six coaches - Horace Green, Jerry Little, Billy Miles, Ben Boyd, Chris Jones and current sideline boss J.R. Edwards have guided the Eagles to victories in the streak.

On a night when the Comets (4-3, 3-1 Piedmont District) ran more plays from scrimmage than the Eagles and claimed more first downs and more offensive yards, but FCHS proved to be seven points better en route to its 26th win in a 50-game series and its eighth on Friday the 13th.

Brandon finished with 218 yards rushing on 37 carries.

“This is a very tough one to lose,” Halifax head coach Grayson Throckmorton said. “Our guys played hard. We got behind from the opening kickoff.”

Franklin County led 35-14 in the third quarter after converting two Halifax turnovers into points, but the Comets were able to rally.

“We make it tough on ourselves, sometimes, but the kids were able to pull through,” Edwards said. “In the end, that’s all the counts.”

First, Halifax hit the Eagles with a pass completion and lateral - known as a hook and ladder play - in which Brandon took the lateral and sprinted down the right sideline for a touchdown. The play covered 80 yards.

Franklin County took a metaphorical standing eight-count when Halifax hit the Eagles with the trick play.

“That stunned us a little bit. It was a good call by them. I haven’t seen one of those in a long time,” Edwards said.

“I called the hook-and-ladder. I put it in [the playbook] this week,” Throckmorton said. “...It was a perfect time to call it. It jump-started us a little bit.”

The Comets made the point-after touchdown kick, but a holding penalty erased the point from the scoreboard and forced Halifax to retreat 10 yards for another try. On the second attempt, the snap was bad and that forced the Comets to try a 2-point conversion run which was stopped.

Trailing 35-20, Halifax scored the only points of the fourth quarter when Curtis Woods found the end zone from three yards and Brandon sprinted three yards for the 2-point conversion.

The Comets, who were denied points earlier in the quarter when they were stopped on fourth down in the red (scoring) zone, drove the ball to the Eagles’ 21 yard line on the game’s last series. With the clock running, Brandon and Moore each fired an incomplete pass, then Moore was stopped after a three-yard gain on the game’s last play.

“The fact that we made them run the ball on the last play was to our advantage [because of the time left in the game.] But [the run] was what they were doing well. They ran the sweep all night and we had trouble stopping it.”

Franklin County took a 7-0 when Malik Carter, who was playing his first game after returning to the line-up after an early-season injury, returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a TD.

The Eagles have returned three kickoffs for TDs this season, each in a game played at Dillon Stadium: one each by Manns (versus E.C. Glass) Jacob Stockton (versus Staunton River) and Carter.

Friday marked the first time that the Eagles were victorious when returning a kickoff for a score.

“That [the opening kickoff] is were we didn’t set the tone. That’s one of the major reasons why we lost the game,” said Throckmorton, who played on NCAA Division III national semifinal teams at Ferrum College in 1988 and 1989 which won a total of three South Region playoff games at Dillon Stadium, and he also was an assistant coach on Halifax’s state-title club.

“I know that’s at the very beginning of the game, but look at the [final] score. If we don’t give up that [touchdown] we’re going to overtime or, maybe, it changes the complexion of the game and we win,” Throckmorton said. “You hate to say that the first play of a ball game is a pivotal play, but it was.

“You have to understand the mentality of kids today - that is a crusher and it’s hard to recoup from it,” Throckmorton said. “Great teams can recover from that. We are a good team. We’re not a great team yet, but we’re getting there. We’re plugging along.”

Halifax would respond = the Comets tied the count at 7 when Moore hit Darrius Bowman with a 44-yard TD strike with 1:38 showing in the first quarter.

Smith, who ran for three TDs, scored on a 2-yard run at 9:42 in the second stanza, and after Brandon rushed for a five-yard TD at 4:20, Smith dashed 20 yards for a TD that broke the second stalemate and produced a 21-14 edge at intermission.

Smith third TD followed the first of Halifax’s two, third-quarter fumbles.

His three-yard scoring run enabled the Eagles to double the count.

The Comets committed their second turnover on the ensuing kickoff and the Eagles converted it into points when Shaun Manns rushed for a six-yard score.

“We were ripping yardage in the first half and in the second half, all of a sudden, we’re not making those blocks. We got happy. That”s been a problem with us in games that we have been able to be in this year. ...Right now, I’m just trying to see if we can keep our heads above water,” Throckmorton said. “We’ve got three tough ones left (at Patrick County, at Magna Vista and home versus George Washington-Danville).” Eight of the 12 teams in Halifax’s Class 5 region qualify for postseason play.

“We’re going to prepare for Patrick County like they’re the Super Bowl champions,” Throckmorton said.

Franklin County gets Danville, the only undefeated team in league play, followed by an open date, followed by Tunstall in its regular-season finale. Both games are on the road.

Smith and Manns accounted for 140 rushing yards and Smith was 8 of 12 passing for 156 yards. He completed passes to five receivers: Manns, Tyshaun Zeigler, Shane Grindstaff, Myles Gilbert and Justin Motley.



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