RALEIGH — With both offenses moving the ball with relative ease Friday night, Athens Drive coach Chris Martin joked that a 7-on-7 scrimmage broke out between the Jaguars and Green Hope.
Yet it was Athens Drive’s defense that came up with the game-winning play. Defensive end Tyree Manuel scooped up a fumble and ran 81 yards untouched to the end zone to clinch the Jaguars’ 41-29 win.
“We tried a ton of different stuff, and we really didn’t have an answer for them. That big turnover at the end, that one stop, that was pretty much it,” said Martin, seconds before his jubilant players doused him in a Gatorade bath.
One of those players, running back Dominique Lynch, deserved a tall glass of the drink after wracking up 137 yards on 27 carries and scoring five touchdowns.
Although the defense clinched it at the end, it was the Jaguars’ special teams, specifically returner Jamie Burns, who set up the offense early. With the Jaguars (3-2, 1-0) leading 7-6, Burns returned a punt 68 yards to the Green Hope 2-yard line. Though the drive was backed up to the 20 because of an illegal block, Lynch scored three plays later for a 14-6 lead.
After Green Hope’s Eli Murrane caught a 7-yard TD pass to cut the Jags’ lead to 14-12, Athens’ Burns returned the ensuing kick 38 yards to the Green Hope 38. Three plays later, Lynch scored from 2 yards.
The Falcons (3-2, 0-1) briefly took the lead in the third quarter. On the second half’s opening possession, quarterback Luke Massei (368 yards passing, four TDs) guided the Falcons 65 yards on eight plays and connected with Murrane on another 7-yard TD pass for a 26-22 lead.
But Athens came right back with an 11-play drive that was capped by Lynch’s 1-yard run for a 29-26 lead.
Green Hope, trailing 35-26, was threatening Athens’ end zone with about five minutes to play. On fourth down from the Athens 7, Athens defensive ends Cameron Keane and Dimerist Hedgepth smothered Green Hope’s Massei and knocked the ball loose, where Manuel swooped in for the game-winning score.
“I told myself earlier in the game, if I could pick it up and go, no one was going to stop me,” Manuel said. “Once I took off, no one could stop me.”