ASHFORD --- The Northside Methodist Knights are going to the playoffs once again.
They can thank a fourth-quarter surge for the latest clinching of a state playoff spot.
With 1-5 Success Unlimited giving Northside Methodist all it could handle, the Knights scored two touchdowns and earned an interception in the final six minutes to take a 20-14 win over the Mustangs in an AISA Class AAA, Region 2 game at Ashford’s Layton Field.
The win clinched a second-straight playoff berth for Northside Methodist (4-4, 2-1) and a fourth in the last five years. The Knights also matched last year’s win total with the victory.
In addition, they moved into a second-place tie with Macon-East and Fort Dale in the standings, giving them a shot at a possible home playoff game as they finish up against those same teams in the next two weeks.
The Knights still have a remote chance at winning the region if they can sweep those two games and have Monroe Academy fall to Pike Liberal Arts and to Fort Dale.
“Obviously we are thrilled about that,” Northside Methodist head coach Jason Hurst said of the playoff spot. “We still have two important region games coming up that will determine seeding. We actually still have an opportunity to win the region.
“So we are happy about that as that is one or our goals, but we are not thrilled with the way we played tonight, especially on offense, but at the end of the day we got a win. They were a physical team and had some good athletes.”
“It is amazing to clinch a state playoff spot and be able to play in the playoffs,” said junior cornerback and kick/punt returner Kennard Miller, who had a huge interception in the final quarter.
“We knew we had heart and we did it as a team,” added Northside Methodist sophomore quarterback Cason Eubanks, who had a key 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter surge. “We came out in the first half not as well as we should have done as I think we underestimated this team a little bit. We came out hard in the second half.”
In an 8-8 dogfight midway in the fourth quarter, the Knights started their first fourth-quarter series at their own 27 after Tres Weeks stuffed Success quarterback Desmond Adams for a 12-yard loss on fourth down with the Mustangs at the 15.
The Knights drove 73 yards in eight plays, mostly behind the running of standout running back Chase Swain on short runs up the middle. On 2nd-and-7 at the Mustang 35, Eubanks faked to Swain and rolled out to the left. Two Success players were there, but Eubanks made like escape artist Harry Houdini, making both miss and sprinted down the sideline for a 35-yard TD run, putting NMA in front with 6:01 left.
“It was a counter left and I went to the outside and the corner crashed and he had me and was about to throw me down and I don’t know how I did it (got away),” Eubanks said. “I think I shoved him or something. All I knew was I was free (from him) then I got past that other corner and took off.”
“Cason is a winner, a play-maker and we feel good when he has the ball in his hands. Tonight, he didn’t have his best game, but any time he runs the ball, he has a chance to make a big play and that showed tonight. Once he hits the sideline, he has enough speed that nobody is going to catch him.”
A try for two failed as Eubanks was stopped on a run to the right, but the Knights led 14-8.
Success, though, drove to the NMA 34 with under 3:20 left. Adams tried to go outside to favorite receiver Isaiah Jackson, but Miller stepped in front of the pass for an interception and returned it to the Success 20.
“I just read the alignment and the way he lined up (for the screen),” Miller said of the interception.
“Kennard is a very smart player,” Hurst said. “They had thrown that pass a couple of times before and the receiver was really cheating his split down on that bubble screen. Kennard is a smart guy and he saw him cheating down and knew they were going to throw the bubble screen and jumped it.”
In addition to his interception, Miller had two punt returns of 33 and 35 yards in the game t0 spark NMA.
Three plays after the interception, Swain scored on a 5-yard run with 1:41 left to put the Knights up 20-8. A try for two failed.
The Mustangs scored with 32.8 seconds left when Adams and Jackson hooked up a 34-yard TD pass. A try for two failed as Nyrik Hawkins stopped a receiver short of the goal line.
The Knights then recovered the onsides kick to seal the win up.
Swain finished with 118 hard-earned yards on 30 carries. Defensively, Tripp Griffin had 10 tackles, one for a loss, and Weeks had eight tackles, three for losses, including two quarterback sacks. Weeks also forced a fumble. Carter Stephens had eight tackles, while Miller and Hawkins had an interception each.
After struggling in the first two possessions, the Northside Methodist offense struck paydirt to the end zone on its third series. Sparked by a 33-yard punt return by Miller that set the Knights at the Success 20, NMA scored in two plays, both runs Swain.
Swain got the touchdown with a 21-yard run to the left corner. Eubanks converted a two-point conversion off the right end, giving the Knights an 8-0 lead with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs tied it midway in the second quarter, driving 72 yards in seven plays. Adams ignited the drive with completions of 12 and 15 yards to start the series.
A sack by the Knights’ Weeks forced a 2nd-and-15 at the 40, but Success overcame the sack with a 7-yard Adams to Matthew Perkins pass and an 8-yard keeper by Adams to the 25.
Following an offsides by NMA, Success’ Zykese Boyd raced 18 yards off the left side to the Knights 2. A play later, Adams took a keeper to the right, split two Knight defenders and scored on a 2-yard run with 4:44 to go before halftime. Adams added a two-point conversion on a similar play to the right end, tying the game at 8-8.
The Knights struggled badly on offense in the opening half as the Mustangs shut down Swain, limiting him to 31 rushing yards on 12 carries. Overall, NMA had 41 yards rushing and was 0-of-8 passing.
“That was by far the most out of sort our offense has been all year,” Hurst said. “We are a run-first team and normally we are able to hit some passes early to soften them up and we missed on those passes and that allowed them to close down the run.”
Success finished the opening half with 134 total yards, including 76 in the air.