Grimsley rallies for another epic playoff win, this one a 28-27 comeback victory over Matthews Weddington, to claim the NCHSAA Class 4-A West regional football championship at Jamieson Stadium.
Why the Whirlies won
Every week Grimsley seems to find a different way to win a big playoff game. After getting a defensive stand in the third overtime a week earlier to beat Cornelius Hough 40-37, the Whirlies won by running the football and making plays on special teams.
On a night when Weddington mostly succeeded in taking away Whirlies receivers Terrell Anderson and Alex Taylor with safety help, coach Darryl Brown’s team rushed for 228 yards on 45 attempts. Sophomore running back Mitchell Summers led the way with 110 of those yards and scored three touchdowns, and senior Jacarion Maynard added 99 yards.
“We have confidence in our guys,” Brown said. “They played over the top on our two guys (Anderson and Taylor), so that’s four (defenders) right there and seven left. We feel like if you do that we’re going to be able to run the football.”
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Anderson and Taylor did have their moments. Anderson took a slant from senior quarterback Ryan Stephens and went 49 yards for a touchdown with just 19 seconds left in the first half as the Whirlies tied the score at 21. That was huge with Weddington receiving the second-half kickoff. And Taylor picked off a pass in Grimsley territory in the third quarter, although he fumbled it back to the Warriors at their 33 after a long return.
On what proved to be the winning drive, the Whirlies went 39 yards in nine plays, and Jackson Henry converted the decisive extra-point kick a week after his 21-yard field goal beat Hough. Facing fourth-and-2 from the Weddington 13 on the drive, Stephens picked up 2 yards by running between the tackles “like an old-school fullback,” as Brown described it.
“We called a timeout and talked to (assistant) coach (Jesse) Tripp and we were going to go with Ryan,” Brown said of the key play. “We felt good about him right there, but we went with something a little different than we’d been running. Instead of getting him to the edge, we stuck him right in there. …”
Three plays later Grimsley was in the end zone after a determined, bruising 8-yard run by Summers. “He’s a warrior, a tough kid,” Brown said of Summers.
Weddington started its final drive from its 21-yard line, but on fourth-and-10 a long pass down the right sideline intended for Evan Gilbert fell incomplete. The Whirlies ran out the clock, their fans flooded the field and they could start thinking about the program’s second trip to UNC’s Kenan Stadium for a state title game in three seasons.
Why the Warriors lost
Weddington coach Andy Capone and his staff came into the game with a solid offensive game plan and found ways to get their receivers in space to pile up yards after the catch. Junior quarterback Tyler Budge delivered the ball on time while avoiding Grimsley’s pass rush for most of the night, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns.
It was two special-teams plays in the fourth quarter that cost the Warriors the game. Junior Jamarie Davis blocked Everett Scott’s extra-point kick after Weddington’s final touchdown, and senior Khalil Stimpson batted down Scott’s 29-yard field-goal attempt and Grimsley returned it to set up the winning score.
“They’re so quick and fast off the edge and long,” Capone said of the Whirlies. “You always worry about it, but we’ve been good in the kicking game all year, especially on extra points and field goals.
“It’s a coaching thing that’s on me for not making sure we step down hard enough,” he said, deflecting any blame from his players. “We’ll get it fixed, and I promise you we’re not going to have a blocked kick cost us something in the future at Weddington.”
The big plays
There were plenty of key plays, as you would expect in a matchup of two great high school football teams with a berth in a state championship game on the line. But the blocked kicks were the difference.
When he spoke to his team in the locker room at halftime, Brown asked them, “Why can’t we get one?” Well, his Whirlies got two.
“We work the mess out of it every week,” Brown said. “Punt block. Field-goal block. We practice it live every week. It’s a big part of what we try to do. To get those two back-to-back … it’s such a credit to our guys.”
Three things we learned
1. Grimsley’s defense did its part in the second half. After Weddington scored on all three of its meaningful possessions in the opening half (the Warriors took a knee after the Whirlies kicked off to them with 19 seconds left), Grimsley held them to six points and forced two turnovers in the final 24 minutes. “The second half our defense played lights-out,” Brown said. “It was just a huge second half by our whole team.”
2. Weddington’s Griffin Reimer is special. There’s a reason the 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end has offers from Virginia, Coastal Carolina and a number of Ivy League schools. He makes catch most players at his position can't. Reimer’s leaping grab of a 26-yard pass from Budge on fourth-and-10 from the Grimsley 37 in the fourth quarter was a big-time play, and he finished with seven receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. “Griff had a great game,” Capone said. “What a baller he is!”
3. The Whirlies have been here before. Grimsley won the spring 2021 Class 4-A championship at Kenan Stadium on a Friday night, beating Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons 28-8 to cap a COVID-shortened 10-game season. The Whirlies will be back in Chapel Hill next Friday night to face 4-A East champion New Bern in a matchup of 15-0 teams. “It was hard,” Brown said of getting back to a state championship game. “I told our kids – and I think they believe me – that anything worth having is hard. If it comes easy, you’re not going to value it that much. Our guys want to compete, want to fight. They enjoy tough moments, tough situations and they’ve proven that. Just another one tonight.”
Weddington — QB Tyler Budge 20-of-33 passing, 302 yards, 3 TDs, INT; RB Wesley McElveen 10 carries, 34 yards; TE Griffin Reimer 7 catches, 123 yards, TD; WR Brett Williams 4 catches, 58 yards, TD; WR Zymill Patterson 4 catches, 65 yards, TD; WR Evan Gilbert 5 catches, 61 yards.
Grimsley — QB Ryan Stephens 7-of-13 passing, 108 yards, TD; RB Mitchell Summers 20 carries, 110 yards, 3 TDs; RB Jacarion Maynard 10 carries, 99 yards; WR Terrell Anderson 5 catches, 91 yards, TD; WR/DB Alex Taylor INT.
What they said
“We told these guys in the locker room: ‘Just give us 48 minutes and it’ll be good enough.’ They were right there at the end. It just really hurts, and these kids deserved it.” – Andy Capone, Weddington coach
“At the beginning of the year we don’t talk about winning a state championship. We talk about getting better every week, and our guys trust in the process and believe in it.” – Darryl Brown, Grimsley coach
Up next for Grimsley
Class 4-A East champion New Bern (15-0), 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill (WMYV-48).