High School Football

How a big gamble ensured Carolina Forest would advance in the 5A football playoffs

Jackson Weatherwax (2) looks for room around Lexington’s Bryson Jones in the second quarter of Carolina Forest’s 36-35 win over the Wildcats.
Jackson Weatherwax (2) looks for room around Lexington’s Bryson Jones in the second quarter of Carolina Forest’s 36-35 win over the Wildcats. For The Sun News

With the game on the line, both Carolina Forest coach Marc Morris and quarterback Mason Garcia had no hesitation. The duo elected to ride the hot hand of Garcia and go for a two-point conversion in overtime, converting the try to defeat Lexington 36-35 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at Brooks Stadium on the campus on Coastal Carolina University on Friday.

The Panthers defeated Lexington in the playoffs for the second straight year, this time riding the legs of running back David Legette and Garcia to a dramatic victory.

“In a game like this one, you’ve got to give credit to the players on both sides,” Morris said. “Their players fought hard to get it to overtime and our guys did everything they could to come out with the win. This one was tough, for sure, and our guys really gave it all they had to make the plays when we needed them most.”

In the first half, the game looked to be a barnburner, with Lexington marching right down the field to score on its first possession, only to be matched by Carolina Forest and Garcia. The teams would trade scores in the second quarter, with Garcia finishing the first half with three rushing scores and a passing touchdown to Jackson Weatherwax to take a 28-21 advantage into the break.

Then, all at once, the scoring stopped.

The second half saw both teams move the ball seemingly at will until they hit the red zone, where both Lexington and Carolina Forest had drives stall out with no points. The only score in the half came off an overly aggressive call by the Panthers, passing the ball on 4th down with the lead, which was intercepted by Lexington’s Bryson Jones and nearly returned for a score. The Wildcats would punch in the equalizing score, with each team trying frantically to score again in regulation. Lexington had a choice with two seconds on the clock to try a long field goal to win the game or go for the score and fell short of the end zone, sending the game into the extra period.

“Right there, we were thinking we had a shot to win the game with our offense, that’s what we wanted to do,” said Lexington coach Perry Woolbright. “We had a good play called; (Carolina Forest) just stopped us. I’m so proud of my team and the growth I’ve gotten to see in them this year. Even in this game, they showed what they’re made of.”

In the overtime period, Carolina Forest elected to put its defense on the field, giving Lexington the first shot to score from the 10-yard line. Each team had one timeout and four downs to score. Lexington’s Cal Herndon threw a misdirection strike to Nathan Baxley on fourth down to give the Wildcats the lead. Carolina Forest also needed all four downs to score, when Garcia punched in his fourth rushing touchdown of the night. The Panthers lined up to kick the tying extra point, but an offsides penalty led the Carolina Forest coaching staff to rethink its decision and they put the ball back in Garcia’s hands. He bulled his way over the Lexington defense to vault the Panthers into the second round of the playoffs.

“I wanted to go for two right after we scored,” Garcia said. “I knew that I could get the ball into the end zone and win the game. When Coach Morris came over to me and said ‘Go win the game’ and gave me the same play call that we used for the touchdown, I had a huge smile on my face. I never had a doubt in my mind.”

Garcia knew coming into the game that his legs would be key to his team’s success, as the Lexington defense loaded up to stop the pass.

“They had a good plan and really made us stick to the run for a lot of the game,” he said. “So, we decided to spread them out and then have me run it or give it to David (Legette) to take the openings they were giving us. I love to throw the ball and make big plays, but in the playoffs, all I want to do is win.”

Next, Carolina Forest will travel to Summerville for a clash with the Green Wave on Friday.

LEX – 7 14 0 7 7 – 35

CF – 7 21 0 0 8 – 36

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

LEX – Cal Herndon 3-yard run (Brady Bolin kick good) 8:37

CF – Mason Garcia 2-yard run (Cole Poirier kick good) 6:59

Second Quarter

CF – Garcia 1-yard rush (Poirier kick) 9:09

LEX – William Crouch 44-yard pass to Elliott Herndon (Bolin kick) 8:52

CF – Garcia 7-yard rush (Poirier kick) 7:07

LEX – Herndon 2-yard run (Bolin kick) 4:02

CF – Garcia 20-yard pass to Jackson Weatherwax (Poirier kick) 00:47

Third Quarter

None

Fourth Quarter

LEX – Crouch 3-yard run (Bolin kick) 4:30

Overtime

LEX – Herndon 5-yard pass to Nathan Baxley (Bolin kick)

CF – Garcia 3-yard run (Garcia run for 2-point conversion)

Statistical Leaders

Passing

LEX – Cal Herndon 10-18-101-0-3 CF – Mason Garcia 7-20-213-1-1

Rushing

LEX - Akeem Nicholas 17-127 CF – David Legette 33-168

Receiving

LEX – Elliott Herndon 3-53 TD CF – Jackson Weatherwax – 4-98 TD

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