With the song “Celebrate Good Times” blaring from the Patriot Field speakers minutes after Friday’s Class AA state playoff game ended, the Palestine-Wheatley Patriots danced their way into the second round of the Class AA state playoffs.
What appeared to be an early winning hand for Mountain Pine crumpled under a pair of Patriot deuces.
Two fourth-quarter safeties carried Palestine-Wheatley, which trailed 21-0 at one point in the first half, to a 36-35 victory in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Friday night.
The Patriots trapped Mountain Pine in its end zone twice in the final five minutes, scoring the final two-pointer with 1:20 left and running out the clock after taking the Red Devils’ second free kick of the game.
For the No. 3 seeded Patriots out of the 6AA, the win capped the first home playoff game and the first playoff victory for the Patriots since the 2004 season.
This Friday, the Patriots get to do it again.
Coupled with Salem’s upset win over No. 1 seeded Hector, the Patriots, 9-2 and No. 3 seed from the 6AA, gained a second straight home playoff game when they host fifth-seeded Salem (5-5) on Friday based on being the higher seeded team in the second round game.
The Greyhounds won 41-35 in Pope County despite being seeded fifth from 3AA.
Coming off an 0-10 season, Mountain Pine (7-4) had the most wins in Garland County despite losing its last three games. The Red Devils were seeded third from the 7AA after conference losses to Mount Ida and Foreman, both winning by shutout Friday night.
“Here at Palestine, I don’t know if we can win any way but ugly,” first-year Palestine-Wheatley head coach Carey Knowlton said. “Wow, you know I will take that win. I told these guys if we can win 14 games by one point we can be state champions. I just can’t say enough. Defense won this game for us tonight. Offensively we just could not get any momentum. I think in the first quarter we had maybe 20 yards of offense.”
Two first-quarter turnovers just killed whatever momentum the Patriots started with.
“I put Carter (Milton) into some bad spots throwing the ball, but we were trying to squeeze the ball into the receiver’s hands and do some stuff,” Knowlton added. “Our kids are fighters and they fight for each other. And we will be right here again Friday night and see what happens. I don’t have any idea about Salem’s football program, we will just play our game. We have some things to fix offensively this week because we can’t just give up a 21-point first half and expect to win every time. Our defense, however, played lights out and man did they ever come through for us at the end.”
Palestine-Wheatley surged ahead 32-28 late in the third quarter before Elijah Browning’s two-yard run and an extra point regained the lead for Mountain Pine at 35-32 with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
The Red Devils led 28-20 after Smith hooked up with Kason Porter for a 23-yard a touchdown with 7:35 left in the third quarter.
Mountain Pine took a 7-0 lead on a short touchdown run by senior running back Dafavioun Haywood and Chad Graves’ extra point kick, which was set up by a P-W fumble recovered by the Red Devils.
Mountain Pine made it 13-0 early in the second quarter on a six-yard touchdown run by Elijah Browning and pushed their lead to 21-0 with 9:46 to play in the first half on a three-yard run by Collin Smith and a two-point conversion set up when Mountain Pine sophomore Kwin Staggers picked off a Milton pass and returned it to the Patriot 12.
P-W cut into the Mountain Pine lead on Chris Jordan’s 24-yard touchdown run with 8:13 to play cutting the Mountain Pine lead to 21-6.
Following an incident on the Mountain Pine sideline which brought both squads rushing onto the field,
Milton found Garrett Wilson for P-W touchdown with 51 seconds left in the first half and Jordan hauled in the two-point conversion pass to trail 21-14 at the half.
It took the Patriots just two plays to cut the Mountain Pine lead to just one point at 21-20 when Milton found Kentrell Williams for a 60-yard scoring pass.
Beginning from midfield Mountain Pine answered with the 23-yard touchdown strike to Porter to extend their lead to 28-20 with 7:53 left in the third.
P-W caught the Red Devils off guard on the next possession with Milton pitching to Wilson, who pulled up and fired a strike to Tony Bonds who refused to go down and covered 57 yards for the touchdown with 7:35 to play getting the Patriots within two points at 28-26.
The Patriots took their first lead of the game after Bonds recovered an onside kick setting P-W up at the Red Devils’ 48 yard line. Jordan finished the possession with a 37-yard scoring run to put the Patriots in front 32-28 after the missed two point conversion.
Mountain Pine regained a 35-32 lead with 1:19 to play in the third quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Browning and the point after kick by Graves.
P-W recorded the first of the two safeties with 4:57 left in the game to get within one point at 35-34.
After a Mountain Pine free kick, Jordan carried to the Red Devils 20 yard line before Milton was sacked and Milton’s fourth and long pass was intercepted by Haywood.
With the Red Devils backed up at their own six, P-W’s defense came through with the second safety of the game which turned out to be the game-winning points giving the Patriots the 36-35 win.
This week’s second-round state playoff game will be only the second one for the Patriots since the 2004 season as well.
Salem advanced to the second round of the state playoffs a year ago by defeating McCrory in the first round and losing to Cross County in the second round.