HAVELOCK - The Havelock defense struggled to combat Southern Nash's double-wing rush offense but the Ram offense carried its water, leading Havelock to a 49-39 victory Friday night in the third round of the NCHSAA 3A playoffs.
The No. 2 seed Rams benefited from 335 passing yards from senior Zach Sabdo and three interceptions by the defense.
Trailing 20-14 with seconds remaining in the first half, Sabdo connected with Christian Capps for a 25-yard touchdown to go up 21-20.
"Christian is a great player for us," Havelock coach Caleb King said. "He does everything we ask him to do and that catch was a big play at the end of the first half."
That snatching of the momentum carried over to the second half as the Firebirds got the football first and were stuffed to a three-and-out by the Rams.
One play later, Rams' star Khalil Barrett took one 38 yards for a touchdown to put Havelock up 28-20.
Southern Nash got to within three a couple times, but could get never retake the lead from the Rams.
Havelock senior linebacker Tyiyon Johnson sealed the game with just over two minutes left as he snagged a pass and took it 13 yards to the end zone for the clinching score.
Johnson fought through a flock of Firebirds the final five yards to plow into the paydirt.
"That's the first time I've ever ran one in," Johnson said with a smile after the game. "My body just got heavy there when those guys were trying to get me down. I just tried my best to fight through it."
King also praised Johnson for the play and leadership he showed on defense.
"It was an unbelievable play at that time in the game and I couldn't be more proud of Tyiyon," King said.
Sabdo has now surpassed big brother Travis' single-season passing record and was clicking for most of the night, completing 25 of 32 throws.
Welton Spottsville left his stamp on the game with a touchdown catch, an interception and a blocked extra point.
"Southern Nash is a very good team and they came to play tonight," King said. "We knew we had to get them in a hole and get up a couple scores and we were able to do that."
The Rams improved to 13-1 and will be playing in the 3A eastern final for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
Havelock will head to No. 1 seed Western Alamance next week for that eastern final.
The Firebirds' season ended at 12-2.
Head coach Brian Foster said there wasn't too much he could say to his team.
"Just that I'm proud of them, love them and we had one goal and we fell short, so not much to say," he said. "Credit Havelock, they made some big plays right when they needed to and that score before half just stole the momentum from us. They made plays."
Havelock 14; 7; 14; 14; 49
Southern Nash 7; 13; 13; 6; 39
H - Khalil Barrett 20 pass from Zach Sabdo (Christian Hoomana kick)
SN - Zonovan Knight 38 run (Justin Vasquez kick)
H - Welton Spottsville 55 pass from Sabdo (Hoomana kick)
SN - Kendrick Bell 82 run (Vasquez kick)
SN - Knight 8 run (kick blocked)
H - Christian Capps 25 pass from Sabdo (Hoomana kick)
H - Barrett 38 run (Hoomana kick)
SN - Knight 4 run (2-point attempt failed)
H - Cameron Hutchinson 16 pass from Sabdo (Hoomana kick)
SN - Knight 18 run (Vasquez kick)
H - Barrett 8 pass from Sabdo (Hoomana kick)
SN - Bell 1 run (2-point attempt failed)
H - Tyiyon Johnson 13 interception return (Hoomana kick)
Total Offense 452 443
First Downs 12 18
Rushes-Yards 22-117 63-402
Passing Yards 335 41
Comp-Att-Int 25-32-1 2-6-3
Turnovers 1 3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 8-75 11-109
Passing: Havelock - Zach Sabdo - 25-for-32 for 335 yards (5 TD, INT). Southern Nash - Lorenzo Sessoms - 2-for-6 for 41 yards (3 INT).
Rushing: Havelock - Khalil Barrett - 12 carries for 94 yards (TD), Cameron Hutchinson 5-11, Justin Hoover 2-6, Solomon Beligotti 1-3, Sabdo 2-3. Southern Nash - Kendrick Bell 23-158 (2 TD), Zonovan Knight 26-157 (4 TD), Nadir Thompson 3-39, Quinton Cooley 3-29, Na'sheen Cooley 4-16, Sessoms 2-2, Kelvin Whitaker 1-1, Dae'one Wilkins 1-0.
Receiving: Havelock - Hutchinson - 12 catches for 160 yards (TD), Welton Spottsville 1-55 (TD), Tyler Hundley 6-53, Barrett 4-44 (2 TD), Christian Capps 2-29 (TD), Hoover 1-0. Southern Nash - Thompson 1-34, Knight 1-7.
Jordan Honeycutt can be reached at 252-635-5670 or at firstname.lastname@example.org