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For the Fike High varsity football team, the first half will be the takeaway from Friday’s opening round game against Erwin Triton in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
The second half was associated with fumbles and uncharacteristic inconsistency in the kicking game.
Nevertheless, the Golden Demons put the contest out of reach on senior running back Justin Daniels’ 45-yard sprint with 1:50 remaining, lifting Fike to a 30-14 win inside a cold Buddy Bedgood Stadium.
Fike, victorious over Triton for the second time this season, improved to 9-3 as the No. 8 seed in the East region. The Demons, winners of six of their last seven games, will now draw No. 1 seed Western Alamance on the road in the second round. Triton, the No. 9 seed, had its year ended at 6-6.
Western Alamance dispatched No. 16 Eastern Wayne 56-20 in its first-round encounter.
“The second half, our snaps were bad and we didn’t take care of the football,” Fike head coach Tom Nelson said. “Our defense played OK, but we put them on the field time and time again with the turnovers. I hate that we didn’t end it the way we should have.”
But what was missing from the exclamation point with two lost fumbles, a missed field goal and a muffed punt was present at the outset.
On the opening drive of the game, Triton took the ball and methodically moved the ball downfield out of its wing-T, primarily via the jet sweep. The Hawks ran 18 plays from scrimmage and owned the ball for close to nine minutes before sending out the field goal team for a 39-yard attempt. However, the snap couldn’t be corralled by the holder, allowing junior Jaquan Applewhite to scoop it up and return it 60 yards for the score.
Just like that, Fike’s defense had won a reprieve and the Demons led 7-0 with 3:49 left in the opening quarter — all without touching the ball on offense.
Fike’s passing game, as it did in the regular-season meeting against Triton, began to take flight. Senior Brandon Atkinson wore his defender out on the outside with multiple pass interference flags down the field, and in the second quarter, senior quarterback Jaelynn Melton found classmate Porter Watson for the first of two touchdown passes.
Melton faked the handoff and acted as if he was going to run. But at the last second, he pulled up behind the line of scrimmage and hit a wide-open Watson for a 36-yard score.
Fike led 14-0, and with 2:11 left before halftime, Melton found Watson again on a 5-yard TD as Watson beat his man for position on an inside slant.
The Demons carried a 21-0 lead into halftime.
“When you’re on the road and in an environment with the temperature like it is, momentum is going to be huge,” Triton head coach Ben Penny said. “That’s when the cold comes into play when you give up something big early. It took us a little while to bounce back.”
Triton was able to hang around in the second half as Fike missed a 40-yard field goal short and lost a fumble. But it was a muffed punt from the Demons that initially gave Triton a glimmer of hope. De’marius Staton scored from 11 yards out to cut Fike’s lead to 21-7 midway through the third quarter off that muff, but Fike senior Walker Gliarmis booted a 21-yard field goal to put the Demons up by three possessions at 24-7 with 11:33 to play.
The Hawks once again encroached within two scores after seeing a 33-yard attempt sail wide right. Triton pounced on a Fike fumble, allowing Jarrell Cowan to dart up the middle from 5 yards out. The PAT was added, leaving Fike up 24-14 with 4:26 to go.
Triton got it back in Fike territory after an 18-yard punt, but quarterback Justin Leggett tossed an interception to senior William Kent. That helped set up Daniels’ jaunt with 110 seconds remaining to account for the final margin once the extra point was missed.
“We stayed focused and kept our minds straight,” Daniels said. “We kept the game going.”
Melton finished 5 of 10 through the air for 76 yards and a pair of TDs. Daniels had 123 yards on 20 carries to lead Fike’s rushing game.
“These were not great conditions to throw the ball,” Nelson said. “I thought we ran the ball better than we did last time against them. I’m just happy for our team. We’re going to play another week; we’re 9-3.”