LAURINBURG — You could almost hear everyone on the home side of Pate Stadium let out a sigh of relief when the clock finally ran out and the game ended on Friday.
That was because the Scots had just put up a 24-17 win over Knightdale in the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs despite losing five fumbles. For the most part, Scotland was the better team Friday. But then there were the turnovers, which created an entirely different game. There were three in the first half and two more in the second. Yet somehow, Scotland led 10-7 at halftime.
Defense saves the day
The ‘how’ of Scotland still winning at halftime wasn’t really a mystery, however. It was due to the play of the defense. The Scots held Knightdale to under 50 yards of offense in the first half, and while the Knights had a much better second half, the defense stepped up when it absolutely had to and kept the Scots in the game and let them have a chance to win it late. Not many teams can turn the ball over five times in the playoffs and still come away victorious.
The cold weather might have led to the higher-than-average turnover margin as temperatures were in the 30s throughout most of the game. The Hoke County game, in which Scotland gave up 17 points to Hoke on turnovers, was also played in cold weather. It should be noted that the Richmond game did not seem to be affected by the weather, and Scotland’s 21-14 win at Marlboro County in September — in warm weather — also featured a few turnovers.
That game in Bennetsville was the only game this year decided by less than 14 points — until Friday. Like that game, fumbles stopped Scotland’s offense and directly helped out the other team. The Bulldogs of Marlboro County returned a fumble for a touchdown early in the Sep. 6 game and the Scots lost another on the 1-yard line.
Ultimately however, both games had the same ending. The Scots got the ball late in a tied game and drove down the field, setting quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe up for the go-ahead rushing score. Against Marlboro the Scots pounded the ball down the field with Ratliffe’s running ability behind the strength of the offensive line, scoring the touchdown on a short-yardage run with two minutes to play.
Without one of the best defenses in the state though, the games would probably have had different outcomes. Scotland’s defense stopped Knightdale on fourth down twice in the final quarter of Friday’s game when the Knights were trying to take the lead.
Scotland’s passing game can win games
The fact that Scotland can win games through the air became apparent after receiver Jalen Tyson caught three touchdown passes against Heritage in the second round of the playoffs. But the running game has been so successful in most games that Ratliffe hasn’t had to use his arm as often.
Friday’s score came a little later in the game, a little harder and a little differently. Knightdale’s defense gave up 230 yards on 43 rushes Friday, but was not being gashed by any means. They stopped the Scots on three-straight runs on the previous drive, and appeared to have found a way to limit the amount of yards they were giving up on the ground. So when Scotland took over with 1:45 to play, it wasn’t a given that they would be able to score before time expired and the game went to overtime.
But then the air game came into play, and Ratliffe hit a wide-open Trejon Monley for 53-yards, putting the ball on the 5-yard line and putting the Scots in prime position to win the game with a field goal at the least. However, the offensive line was able to get the push it needed to allow Ratliffe to jump up and extend the ball into the endzone with 16 ticks left in the game.