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Conley escapes upset in 33-30 thriller

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Friday, November 16, 2018

Two weeks ago, D.H. Conley drove the field looking to upset eventual 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference champion South Central, and they lost by one point.

On Friday night, the Vikings pulled off a miracle to escape Southern Alamance and advance to the second round of the 3-AA state playoffs.

Up 30-27, all the visiting Patriots needed to do was take a knee, forcing the Vikings to use their final timeout and secure a big upset. Instead they elected to run the ball, which proved to be a critical error. 

With just 44 seconds remaining the in game, Conley was hoping for a chance, and they received one in Southern Alamance running back Jsi Hatfield fumbling the ball away on the slippery turf, which was scooped up by Reed Chandler on the Vikings 35-yard line. Quarterback Nick Hamilton then completed three passes to CJ Johnson, pushing the Vikings to the Patriots’ 16-yard line.

Hamilton then dropped back, scanning the field and launching a pass to Zy Edwards as time expired. Edwards came down with the catch, sending the Conley sideline into an explosion of cheers and tears of joy, while Patriots players realized the result meant the end of an impressive season.

“I didn’t really know what to think until the last pass of the game, but I had faith in my receivers and they made plays on the ball,” Hamilton said. 

Hamilton said he was confident in his final throw, noting Edwards was matched up in one-on-one coverage. 

“This doesn’t feel real to be honest,” Edwards said postgame after receiving hugs and high-fives from coaches, players and fans. “It’s like I wasn’t myself (during that play).”

A critical piece of the drive was Hamilton’s three completions to Johnson, which totaled 45 of the nearly 60 yards Conley covered on the drive. 

“I knew I had to step it up for my team,” Johnson said. “I knew I was a leader. I didn’t come out here and become a captain for no reason. This win means a lot to us. No words can explain that ending.”

Hamilton finished 18-for-35, throwing for 284 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Johnson accounted for 75 percent of Hamilton’s yardage, recording 11 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He also accounted for one passing touchdown. 

“I thought we needed to keep moving the ball (when I saw the turnover). We had one timeout left and we just trusted in our guys,” Conley head coach Nate Conner said. “We just trusted in our guys and they did it. They made the throws, CJ made some great catches to get us close, Nick scrambled, the line protected and our guys just stepped up.”

Conley rebounded from a rough first half. After the teams traded punts, Nyck Brown fumbled the ball, leading to a Patriots touchdown. The point-after was missed, giving Southern Alamance an early 6-0 lead. The turnovers continued in the second quarter, when Mitchell Hofler fumbled, once again giving the Patriots possession. 

Johnson’s athleticism shined once again, as he completed a shovel pass to Hofler to put Conley ahead 7-6. The score held into halftime.

Hamilton threw an interception to Hatfield on his third pass attempt of the second half, which led to Hatfield scoring from 13 yards out to increase the Patriot lead to 12-7 after a failed two-point conversion. Johnson then recorded his first touchdown reception of the night, going 35-yards to put Conley ahead 14-12.

It didn’t take long for Hatfield and Southern Alamance to respond, as he ran 65 yards to regain the lead, 20-14. After recovering their onside kick, the Patriots added a field goal to increase the lead to two scores, 23-14. 

Johnson ran in a short five-yard touchdown on the Vikings next possession after Brown ran a kick return to the Patriots’ 9-yard line. It took Hatfield just one play to respond, once again using a huge 58-yard run to make the score 30-21. 

Things were looking bad in the fourth quarter for Conley until Hamilton once again connected with Johnson for a touchdown with just 1:55 remaining. Instead of simply taking a knee and advancing, the Patriots will now have to wait until next season for their shot to secure a state title.

The Vikings will hit the road in round two, traveling to take on a tough fourth-seeded Cleveland squad.  

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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