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Pirates end North's magical playoff run


North Davidson's Tevin Tuttle fumbles after being hit by a Porter Ridge defender in the third quarter of the 4-A state semifinal game Friday night in Welcome. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)


WELCOME | Just as a bitter cold wind blew across Palmer Field, Porter Ridge turned the heat up to full blast.



Then North Davidson’s season melted away.



The Pirates converted two turnovers into quick touchdowns in the third quarter, and held on for a 34-27 victory over the Black Knights in the 4-A Western Regional final Friday night. Porter Ridge will face New Bern for the state championship next Friday in Chapel Hill; North saw its incredible season come to an end at 14-1.



North dominated the first half, but the tide swung in a hurry. Down 17-10 coming out of the locker room, a Porter Ridge blitz caused Chase Mitchell to fumble at his own goal line, and Avery Worsham recovered in the end zone to tie things up. Chris Duffy’s 1-yard run on Porter Ridge’s next possession gave the visitors a 24-17 lead, then Jerrick Robbins came up with two huge plays — he recovered Tevin Tuttle’s fumble on North’s next snap, then took an option pitch and raced 26 yards to paydirt. Just like that, the North crowd was in shock and the Pirates had grabbed a 31-17 lead.



“Too many mistakes,” North coach Mark Holcomb said. “We made a mistake there coming out for the second half, not necessarily the touchdown for them but the first play.



“And it just took us a couple of series to get our feet back under us. They got us reeling a little bit.”



Pirates coach Blair Hardin said his team didn’t make any adjustments at halftime, even though they were outgained 270 yards to 131. They just turned up the intensity and brought more pressure. “We just started to be a lot more aggressive defensively,” Hardin said. “We were getting hung up on blocks in the first half, and their running backs were doing a great job of hitting inside creases and bouncing outside.



“So we started being a lot more aggressive, but we didn’t change one thing.”



North might disagree, after controlling the first half in nearly every aspect. Porter Ridge came out with a surprise attack through the air, and Luke Bayly took Isaiah Hicklin’s slant pass and raced 57 yards for a huge gain on the first play from scrimmage. Hicklin kept the drive going with a 10-yard completion to Isaiah Duffy on third-and-6, then Robbins bowled in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.



But that was it for the visitors. North marched right back down the field on a 10-play, 80-yard drive of its own. Mitchell picked up four yards on a gutsy fourth-and-2 run at midfield, and Devonte Moore bounced out for an 8-yard touchdown run moments later to knot things up at 7-7.



North moved the ball well the rest of the half, but didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. Spencer Landfried nailed a 43-yard field goal with 2:24 left in the half, but Oregon-bound Matt Wogan boomed an improbable 58-yarder with 1:20 left in the half to square things at 10-10. North came right back with a quick-strike drive, Mitchell’s 32-yard pass to Jordan Santana set up Shy Tuttle’s 3-yard burst into the end zone for a 17-10 cushion at the break.



North came out of the locker room booming with confidence, but Porter Ridge shattered that immediately. The Pirates brought a heavy blitz right up the middle on the Knights’ first play, stuffing Moore for a 5-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, the Pirates came hot again and Mitchell retreated to near his own goal line. The ball came loose, and Worsham pounced on it for a 17-17 tie.

North’s next drive stalled at the Porter Ridge 40, and the Pirates’ offense came right back. Hicklin hit Bayly for a 15-yard gain, then Robbins broke a 20-yard run. That set up Chris Duffy’s 1-yard scoring run, giving the Pirates a 24-17 edge and a world of momentum.



That momentum would only grow in the next 20 seconds. Tevin Tuttle fumbled on a draw play up the middle on North’s next snap, and Robbins recovered. On Porter Ridge’s first play after the turnover, Robbins took an option pitch around the right side, slipped inside one defender, then bolted down the sideline for a 26-yard TD run.



In a devastating turn, the Pirates seized complete control. North hoped, even with Porter Ridge bringing the heavy blitz, it had a chance to make the Pirates pay. “We felt like we were getting ready to pop one, because they were bringing everybody,” Holcomb said. “There were a couple of times we were a tackle away from being able to see if they could catch us.



“But we just couldn’t get by them. They’re a fundamentally sound team, they tackle well, and they do the things they’re coached to do.”



Wogan tacked on a 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 34-17 lead, and that sent a handful of North fans heading for the exits. But they missed a wild finish. Landfried booted a 38-yard field goal to get North within 34-20 at the 6:14 mark, then Chris Cheek intercepted a Hicklin pass at midfield. The Knights drove to the Pirates’ 14 but turned it over on downs, only to get it right back when Robbins fumbled and Payton Boles recovered. Mitchell then found Ashton Phillips for a 13-yard scoring strike with 2:06 to play, breathing a little bit of hope into the North faithful.



Then, the Knights appeared to get the ball back when Hicklin’s pass on third down fell incomplete with 1:12 to play. But the Knights were flagged for a pass interference, allowing the Pirates to run out the clock.



Holcomb, despite the loss, couldn’t say enough about the magical run his team has gone on this season. “I’m proud of our kids, what they’ve done for our school and our community,” Holcomb said. “They’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.



“A couple days from now, a week from now, they’d better look back on it and see how special it was.”



Notes: Mitchell threw for 217 yards … Phillips caught 11 passes for 132 yards … Hicklin finished with 130 yards passing for Porter Ridge.



Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or jason.queen@the-dispatch.com.