APEX — The Middle Creek Mustangs continued galloping toward their first Southern Wake Athletic Conference crown on Friday, defeating visiting Athens Drive 56-21.
Middle Creek capitalized on five Jaguar fumbles and scored 35 points in the third quarter to take control. The Mustangs defense limited Athens to just 50 total yards after halftime.
Middle Creek senior Thomas Hartshorn recovered four Jaguar fumbles and scored on one in the wild third period. Hartshorn’s first recovery came on the game’s first play from scrimmage and set up a Stuart Fine 9-yard touchdown run.
“It was exciting to come out and play this way as a team,” Hartshorn said. “We want to play like this every time, but it was fun to do this on Homecoming and give the fans a great show.”
The Mustangs (7-2, 5-0 SWAC) were also led by junior quarterback Brant Grisel. Despite throwing three first-half interceptions, Grisel finished with four touchdowns, three coming after halftime.
“We were a lot better team in the second half than we were in the second quarter,” said Middle Creek head coach Mike Castellano, whose team had a 21-14 lead at intermission. “We refocused at halftime and came out and had a dominating performance, which was a credit to these kids.”
Rasheem Eaton, Curtis Burston, Quadir Ford and Jay Schuller each caught touchdown passes from Grisel. Burston was playing in his first game since being injured prior to the season opener.
Middle Creek’s Terrance White scored on a 96-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. The play thwarted the momentum the Jaguars had following a successful fake field goal. Otumos Payemanu tossed an 11-yard touchdown to Dimerist Hedgepeth on the fake for the first points for Athens (4-5, 2-3).
Jaguar senior Dominique Lynch also scored, but was held to just 55 yards by the stingy Mustang defense.
Jamie Barnes almost tied it at 21 on the final play of the first half. John Politis threw a screen to Barnes, who slipped past three Mustang defenders and appeared to score, only to be called out of bounds 2 yards short of the goalline.