GARNER - Jack Britt High School earned a shot at its first 4-AA football state championship Friday night, rallying past host Garner 14-8 with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers (13-2), runner-up in the Mid-South Conference, won their seventh straight and will play Butler at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, in Kenan Stadium. The title game is a rematch of 2009, Britt's third appearance in five years and fourth overall.
Garner (14-1), champion of the Greater Neuse River Conference, was denied a chance at its first state title since 1987 in the final season of retiring head coach Nelson Smith's career.
Prior to rallying in the final 7:06, Britt had managed just 151 total yards and its eight possessions had included a safety, two turnovers and four punts. Garner, meanwhile, had built an 8-0 lead and reached a third down at the Britt 25 with less than eight minutes left seeking a two-score lead and exhaustion of the clock.
Eight snaps later, Britt was ahead 14-8 and the Trojans were on the way to interceptions on each of their last four possessions. But they didn't go without exciting the crowd of more than 8,000, including a drive from the Garner 20 with 51 seconds left to a first down at the Britt 7 with 2.9 seconds to play.
Keon Young's second interception, each on the goal line, prevented Garner quarterback Vincent Jefferies from connecting with Armani Lanier as time expired. It was the second straight week the Bucs prevented a pass completion in the end zone on the final play to win.
The Trojans kept N.C. State receiving recruit Jalen McDaniel (three catches, 23 yards) quiet with the secondary of Nyheim Hines, Tre Perry, Michael Jenkins and Samuel Stidwell. The Bucs utilized the legs of Eric Carter and Marquise Foshee, plus power quarterback Mark McRae, in an effort to sustain drives but were routinely stymied by Garner defenders Tyler Starowicz, Macien Laurent, Bernard Owens, Carrington Austin, Tim Thorb, Raekwon Britton, Jeremie Bolobiongo and Lanier.
Jacquise Foster's fourth-quarter interception of Jefferies at the Britt 10, however, put momentum into a white jersey. Foster returned the third down pick 55 yards along the sideline to the Garner 35 with 7:06 to play.
Kyle Erickson, Joe Legg, Jake Love, Ethan Hindman, Josh Brown and Sean MacLain immediately came to life, and Carter dashed through the hole they created on the next snap, scoring with 6:55 to go to trim the Garner lead to 8-6. The try for two points was a direct snap to Carter, running right and read to perfection by Bolobiongo for a five-yard loss.
An unsportsmanlike penalty on Garner following a second down completion backed the Trojans into a third-and-26 at their 33. When Andre Scott picked off Jefferies at the Britt 49 and returned to the Garner 38, all of Trojan Stadium could sense the continuing shift of momentum.
Carter ran for 25 yards on first down, and McRae fired a 13-yard scoring pass to Edmund Grant in the right side of the end zone on the next snap to send Britt ahead 12-8 with 4:48 to go. McDaniel, wide to the left, ran off a defender to catch a hitch pass for the conversion and a 14-8 lead.
Two first downs in three plays quickly moved Garner to the Britt 49, but Dylan Clayton wrestled a pass away from Raevon Smith along the line of scrimmage to give Britt a first down at the Garner 47 with only 3:46 showing.
Five plays and a penalty later, Atilla Kurt's 30-yard field goal with 51 seconds left fluttered high, short and left.
Garner was out of timeouts and 80 yards from the end zone. Jefferies completed five passes, including a 30-yarder to Hines to reach the Britt 22 with 11.5 seconds remaining. A 15-yarder to Lanier on the sideline, on third-and-10, moved the Trojans to the 7 with 2.9 seconds left.
A procedure penalty backed Garner to the 12, and Young stepped in front of Jefferies' pass for Lanier on the left side and took the return out of bounds as both sidelines became engulfed in emotion.
Carter finished with 131 yards on 14 carries.
Jefferies completed 22 of 43 passes for 244 yards. Lanier and Brayden Sims each had six catches, with Lanier topping 100 yards. Smith rushed for 86 yards on 15 carries.
In grabbing a 6-0 halftime lead, the Trojans got an interception by Hines at the Garner 12 and Laurent recovered McRae's fumbled snap after Britt's best drive reached the Garner 8-yard-line.
Young ended Garner's first-possession scoring threat with an interception on the goal line.
Britt's defensive front of Andre Scott, Ezekial Miller, M.J. McCall, Stephen Huff, Jacob Roberson, Jordan Williams, Jake Norton and Clayton gave a strong effort against a Garner offense with six games of 50 or more points. The Trojans had only 136 yards at intermission and didn't score in their final nine possessions despite finishing with 355 total yards.
Tyler Hinton's 1-yard run with 6:27 left in the first half broke a scoreless tie. A bad snap prevented a conversion kick.
Britt got three of its four first-half first downs in the final 5½ minutes of the half. On its opening possession of the second half, starting at its 7, McRae and Foshee each lost yardage before Starowicz sacked McRae for a safety with 7:53 to play in the quarter.
Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 24 yards to the Britt 40. Jefferies was 13-of-18 on the night when he threw a pass for Lanier on the left sideline in the end zone. Lanier's catch and a potential touchdown was ruled out of bounds. Two snaps later, Garner turned it over on downs and Jefferies missed 10 of 14 passes with three picks prior to the final minute drive.
Britt opened the game with a flea-flicker play, McRae passing 80 yards to Grant for a would-be score. A holding penalty brought the play back and defensive can-you-top-this ensued.
Britt, which lost to Scotland County and Fayetteville Smith, improved to 7-0 away from home for the season. It has four playoff wins by a combined 31 points and turned away a Garner team which had won three playoff games by at least 21 points each and 101 total.
Britt has also defeated Lumberton 28-14, Hoke County 17-10 and Richmond County 56-52 en route to the title game.
Butler will be bidding for its third state title since 2009.
BRITT - GARNER
First downs: 12 - 18
Rushes-yards: 29-186 - 35-111
Passing yards: 74 - 244
Passes: 11-21-1 - 22-45-5
Fumbles-lost: 1-1 - 1-0
Punts-ave.: 4-34.8 - 4-39.5
Penalties-yards: 11-87 - 8-64
Jack Britt 0 0 0 14-14
Garner 0 6 2 0- 8
Garner - Tyler Hinton 1 run (run failed), 6:27, 2nd.
Garner - Safety, Tyler Starowicz tackle Mark McRae in end zone, 7:53, 3rd.
Britt - Eric Carter 35 run (run failed), 6:55, 4th.
Britt - Edmund Grant 13 pass from Mak McRae (Jalen McDaniel pass from Mark McRae), 4:48, 4th.
RUSHING - Britt: Eric Carter 14-131, Mark McRae 7-23, Marquise Foshee 7-16, Jalen McDaniel 1-16; Garner: Raevon Smith 15-86, Tyler Hinton 7-19, Armani Lanier 1-3, Brayden Sims 1-3, Vincent Jefferies 1-0.
PASSING - Britt: Mark McRae 11-21-1, 74 yards; Garner: Vincent Jefferies 22-43-5, 244 yards; team 0-1-0, 0 yards; Raevon Smith 0-1-0, 0 yards.
RECEIVING - Britt: Edmund Grant 4-34, Jalen McDaniel 3-23, Eric Carter 3-17, Marquise Foshee 1-0; Garner: Armani Lanier 6-101, Brayden Sims 6-37, Nyheim Hines 3-51, Tyler Hinton 3-21, Tim Thorb 1-15, Dakota Labau 1-5, Raevon Smith 1-1.