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Three inches. That was all that stood between Tucker Creek and the potential to go up two scores against Havelock Middle in the annual battle between the two Havelock schools for the Cary Godette Trophy.
When the referees stretched the first-down chains, the ball was three inches short of the stick, and Tucker Creek’s attempt at first-and-goal to start the third quarter ended. So did its momentum.
Havelock Middle took the ball and marched 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and eventually went on to beat the rival Mustangs 24-12 to reclaim the Godette Trophy on Oct. 30 at Havelock High School.
“We played defense,” Havelock Middle coach Phil Melton said. “We actually played four downs of defense. We played hard and strong, and when those guys play defense, they’re pretty impressive. Sometimes you’ve got to cattle-prod these guys a little bit and put a fire under their butts.
“Defense, I knew, would be the difference. If we could shut down their runner, not give up so many big chunks, we’d be alright.”
Tucker Creek had a 12-8 lead at halftime and got the ball first in the second half. The Mustangs faced fourth-and-5 from the Trojan 12-yard line. Cameron Hutchinson took a handoff and plowed up the middle, moving a pile of Havelock Middle defenders who eventually brought him down just three inches short of a first down.
“We were really struggling to get that last 10 yards,” Tucker Creek coach Michael Sloan said. “I don’t know that it would have made a difference. We couldn’t really stop them. They were just too fast and too strong.”
Chris Johnson got the Trojans started with a 32-yard run. Anference McGaskill capped the drive with a 35-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left in the third quarter, and Troy West’s two-point conversion run put Havelock Middle ahead 16-12.
Havelock Middle’s Tyiyon Johnson recovered a Mustang fumble on fourth down on the next series, and quarterback Joshua Reid threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Jomar Stewart. Johnson’s two-point run put Havelock Middle in command at 24-12 with just 5:42 left.
The Mustangs drove to their own 45 on their next series but came up a yard short on fourth down, turning the ball over with two minutes left.
The final two minutes proved interesting, when Melton was flagged for two unsportsmanlike penalties and ejected from the game for arguing with the referees. The Trojans, instead of just running out the clock, attempted passes, but Tucker Creek’s Nathan Gravina stopped the final drive with an interception with 10 seconds left.
“I told them this was a great season,” said Sloan, whose Mustangs were 5-2 on the year. “We finished 5-1 in conference. We’ve had a lot of injuries this year and we had a lot of young players step up and play.”
The Trojans scored on their second play when McGaskill went 45 yards for a touchdown and Johnson ran in the two-point conversion, but the rest of the first half belonged to the Mustangs.
Tucker Creek converted on fourth-and-1 and got Jason Wilson’s 9-yard touchdown run to draw within 8-6. Solomon Beligotti then ran 50 yards for a touchdown on fourth down, putting the Mustangs ahead 12-8.
Connor Kinear recovered a fumble to stop another Trojans drive, but eventually, Tucker Creek lost both Wilson and Beligotti to injuries during the game.
“We had kids playing in positions they hadn’t played all year,” Sloan said.
Melton said his speech to the Trojans at halftime was simple.
“I told them not to quit,” he said. “We had to go out and establish our defense in the second half, and we did that. We bent but we didn’t break.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but overall, they’re a good bunch of kids. There’s a lot of talent there.”
The Trojans, who finished 6-1 on the season, avenged last year’s 20-14 loss to the Mustangs and now own a 10-7 lead in the series for the Cary Godette Trophy, named for the former Havelock High standout and East Carolina all-American who coached in the NFL and now is an administrator at ECU.
“They won’t forget this,” Melton said of the victory. “Some of them may not even play next year. If they don’t, they will always remember this. I told them the story about my senior year 34 years ago. You don’t forget it. I played in college, but that was the game that sticks out more than the national championship I played in in college. They’ll definitely toot their horn and have bragging rights for at least a year.”
Cary Godette Trophy RESULTS
1997 Havelock Middle, 38-14
1998 Tucker Creek, 54-14
1999 Havelock Middle, 6-0
2000 Havelock Middle, 44-0
2001 Havelock Middle, 20-6
2002 Havelock Middle, 40-8
2003 Tucker Creek, 22-14
2004 Tucker Creek, 14-12
2005 Havelock Middle, 36-26
2006 Tucker Creek, 41-6
2007 Tucker Creek, 30-24
2008 Havelock Middle, 21-6
2009 Tucker Creek, 20-8
2010 Havelock Middle, 16-8
2011 Havelock Middle, 22-16
2012 Tucker Creek, 20-14
2013 Havelock Middle, 24-12