Bears shock Pirates with rally win in state title game
This time, it ended in heartbreak.
Jac Watkins powered in from 2 yards out with 26 seconds left to give New Bern High a 39-38 win over Porter Ridge in the 4A state championship game in UNC's Kenan Stadium on Friday.
After losing by 26 points to Scotland County in the state title game the year before, the Pirates had every reason to expect they were going to return home with Union County's first football state title in 28 years — holding the lead for most of the game.
Clinging to a 35-33 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Pirates pinned the Bears back at their own 7 when Matt Wogan's 37-yard punt went out of bounds.
Two plays later, Chris Duffy recovered a fumble at the New Bern 13, giving the Pirates a chance to take a two-possession lead, but they couldn't punch it into the end zone.
Porter Ridge (13-2) settled for a 26-yard Wogan field goal for a 38-33 advantage at the 6:11 mark of the fourth quarter.
New Bern (15-0) marched 80 yards on the decisive drive, overcoming a fourth down along the way.
The Bears have now won two state championships in the last five years.
Porter Ridge scored on its opening drive of the second half to take a 28-21 lead, getting an 11-yard touchdown pass from sophomore QB Isaiah Hicklin to junior receiver Luke Bayly on third-and-10.
New Bern rallied with a TD drive, but Pirates senior Marcus Freeman blocked the extra point to preserve his team's lead (28-27).
Porter Ridge continued its offensive onslaught by scoring again on the first play from scrimmage when junior Jerrick Robbins scored on a 66-yard run. Wogan's extra point put the Pirates ahead 35-27.
New Bern responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive, which included a fourth-and-1 conversion. Watkins scored on a 4-yard run to pull his team to within 35-33 at the 4:42 mark of the third quarter. The Bears went for the tie, but Porter Ridge senior linebacker Austin Moore broke up the pass at the goal line.
Chris Duffy had 85 rushing yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the first quarter, leading the Pirates to a 21-14 lead heading into the second period.
The Bears evened the game with 8:14 left in the second quarter on Watkins' 2-yard TD run, and the score remained 21-all at halftime.
The two teams combined for six turnovers in the first half, including four by the Bears.
New Bern drove 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, capped by Bra'lon Cherry's 11-yard run on an option left. Cherry had a 43-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
Porter Ridge gained some momentum when Robbins returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the New Bern 46.
The Pirates took advantage of the short field, covering the 46 yards on six plays. Duffy, a senior who has committed to the Charlotte 49ers, finished the drive with a 2-yard run off the right side to make it 7-all with 7:41 left in the first quarter.
Duffy gave the Pirates another short field by intercepting a third-down pass at the New Bern 36.
Hicklin kept the drive alive by converting a third-and-7 with a 13-yard pass to Bayly down to the New Bern 19. Duffy got the ball down to the 5 by spinning out of two tackles during a 14-yard run, and two plays later, he went in standing from 1-yard out to make it 14-7 at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter.
Taylor tied the game at 14 with a 34-yard run up the middle with 37 seconds left in a wild first quarter that included three turnovers.
Duffy answered again, though, breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and racing to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown and a 21-14 advantage. The two-play drive opened with a 16-yard by Robbins.
Robbins was named PR's offensive player of the game after rushing for 174 yards and a TD on 19 carries.
Porter Ridge senior linebacker Bruce Randall was honored as the Pirates' defender of the game. Randall had a career-high 18 tackles.