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Panthers take wild 53-52 OT win


ASHEBORO | Historic, heartbreaking and completely unbelievable.



And those words are nowhere close to good enough to appropriately relay what went on at Ivey B. Luck Stadium on Friday night.



It may not seal a Mid-Piedmont Conference championship or even a playoff spot, but what it was, was epic in high school terms.

On the strength of senior tailback Darius Martin’s record-setting night and the season’s most stellar offensive performance, Southwestern Randolph was at the precipice of a huge MPC win at home, playing stellar for 44 of 48 minutes. But a blocked punt led to a tie after regulation and Zach Gilliam’s extra-point kick in overtime allowed Ledford to steal away a 53-52 victory.



“The loss is dejecting … but the fact that they fought to the bitter end...” SWR coach Martin Samek said afterwards. “If we put that kind of effort the rest of the year, I think the three teams we have (left) are in trouble. I’ll take what we got.”



Samek was trying to stay positive, but the Cougars (0-2, 3-5) came out of a wild first half and assumed control, riding Martin’s career performance. And it was in large part due to Martin, who was just a few yards shy of a school record in yards rushing for a game with 344 on 38 carries. Several of those accounting for the seven — yes a record, seven — touchdowns and even a two-point conversion run that accounted for 44 of the Cougars’ 52 points.



“This is an unbelievable night,” Martin said, thanking God for his talent and then the offensive line for the holes, though he slipped through a lot of tackles too when he didn’t have a hole. “They did a good job tonight. All the glory goes to them. I just took up behind them and I go, that’s all I had to do.”



“If he is not the player (of the week) in the state, I don’t know who is,” Samek said of Martin. “I’ll argue … that boy right there had the best night of anybody tonight.”



Only the final minutes proved costly.



After a 20-7 dominating third quarter, SWR still had a 46-40 lead with less than four minutes left. But three bad plays — their first truly negative plays all night — brought up a crucial punt. Then, instead of pinning LHS deep, Austin Stilley blocked Ben Runnfeldt’s kick, which tumbled into the end zone and Hunter Aref recovered for Ledford (1-1, 4-4). Fortunately for Southwestern, another in a string of missed extra-points on both sides left the game knotted at 46-46 where it would go to overtime.



The extra stanza was almost a disaster for the Cougars, going backwards with a pair of fumbles on the first two plays of the drive which started first-and-goal at the 10. But on third down, Martin’s night was capped with his seventh and final score, from 14 yards out, only to have the kick miss.



The door was open finally and the Panthers finished off the comeback. On third down, quarterback Duke Boger hit Dalton Harris for the 9-yard score and Giliam’s kick gave Ledford its escape.



It was an exciting game, though tough for the home faithful to finish watching, which featured a month’s worth of fireworks in three quarters to get to a frenzied finish.



Jeremiah Rice, one of two 100-yard rushers for the Panthers, had a 78-yard scamper to the 1 to set up Stilley’s score. Martin scored his second TD, only to be answered by Rice’s 75-yard TD gallop with SWR leading 14-13 when the first quarter finally ended. Ryan Sineath and Martin added second-quarter scores before the Panthers one-upped the Cougars, matching scores and getting both extra-point attempts to take a 27-20 lead at the half.



The third quarter was easily SWR’s best of the season, marching 60-yards in four plays, then taking the Panthers’ only turnover and going 36 yards in two plays to surge ahead 40-27 — all 96 yards from Martin. Martin added a third touchdown in the third with a 5-yard plunge with 1:04 left for a 46-34 lead. Harris was the savior for Ledford setting up the furious finish by scoring a huge 64-yard breakaway before Martin’s 5-yarder in the third and then again from 17 yards early in the fourth.