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Grimsley's ride ends in Class 4-A football final

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Grimsley New Bern (copy)

Grimsley head football coach Darryl Brown tells his players to stand together after their 40-28 loss to New Bern on Friday night in the NCHSAA Class 4-A football championship game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. “I love these guys and I’m extremely proud of them and the ride they took us on this year,” Brown said after his team finished 15-1.

CHAPEL HILL — This was a special football season for the Grimsley Whirlies, and until the final minute Friday night it looked as if they might have one more special moment in them.

But with Grimsley down five points and needing one more stop, New Bern scored the clinching touchdown with 33 seconds left to beat the Whirlies 40-28 in the NCHSAA Class 4-A championship game.

Quick Take: New Bern 40, Grimsley 28

“I’m just really proud of our team and how hard we played tonight,” said coach Darryl Brown, who guided Grimsley to a state championship to cap the spring 2021 season. “We showed a lot of heart like we’ve done all year.”

The Whirlies had been in tough spots before during this postseason run.

Grimsley blocked an extra-point try and a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter of a 28-27 regional final win over Matthews Weddington. So when the Whirlies blocked the extra-point kick after New Bern’s first touchdown Friday night, it seemed to foretell another memorable win.

Terrell Anderson had returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to swing momentum early in Grimsley’s 44-36 playoff win over Charlotte Independence. So, when Anderson took one 98 yards to the house Friday night after the Bears’ second touchdown to cut it to 13-7, it was only natural to think this game would turn in the Whirlies’ favor, too.

Anderson’s 49-yard touchdown catch late in the first half against Weddington also proved to be a momentum-shifting play. And the junior wideout was at it again Friday night, catching an 85-yard TD pass from Ryan Stephens to cut the deficit to 33-28 with 2:57 remaining.

“We were kicking the onside and I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to recover,” Brown said. “We kicked it a little hard and didn’t get a good hop out of it.”

The Bears recovered at their 43 and methodically tried to run out the clock. Out of timeouts and desperately needing to stop New Bern on third-and-11 at the Whirlies’ 36, Grimsley loaded the box with defenders.

“I always believe in these guys," Brown said. "If there’s time on the clock, then we have a chance and I believe we’re going to win the football game."

But this time New Bern quarterback Damaree Tucker broke off right tackle and outraced the Whirlies’ defenders to the right corner of the end zone.

The disappointment was palpable on the Grimsley sideline during the closing seconds until time ran out on the Whirlies’ final bid for a dramatic playoff win. It wasn’t the way anyone in Grimsley colors wanted it to end, but there was still a lot to like and a lot to savor for Whirlies fans.

“I love these guys and I’m extremely proud of them and the ride they took us on this year,” Brown said of a team that finished 15-1 after completing the program’s third consecutive unbeaten regular season.

Afterward, junior wide receiver Alex Taylor said he’ll always remember “our heart and how together we are as a team.”

Senior linebacker and running back Khalil Stimpson said his fellow Whirlies “taught me never to give up and always believe.”

Taylor said the heartbreak of Friday night “will definitely motivate me. I’ll never forget this moment, and I’ll try to get back here next year, and next year we won’t lose.”

That’s where this Grimsley program is after its second state championship game appearance in three seasons.

“This is what we play for at Grimsley High School, to be here,” Brown said. “We have a bunch of great kids that work year-round and people don’t see it behind closed doors. These guys are tough. They work hard. They believe in our staff and each other.”

Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraSports on Twitter.

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