LAURINBURG — Chris Metzger and his Pinecrest Patriots experienced a painful case of déjà vu Friday night in Pate Stadium.
The visitors from Southern Pines led Scotland entering the fourth quarter, only to see it taken away in the waning moments by running back Zamir White.
White ran for 7-yard touchdown with 30 seconds remaining to cap a dramatic 35-31 victory in a contest that exceeded the massive pre-game hype leading up to the clash of the two undefeated teams.
Last season, White scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:20 remaining to propel the Scots to a 29-22 road win.
Almost a year to the date since their previous meeting, Scotland escaped with the win in much the same fashion as it did in 2014 — by hitching its wagon to the 6-1, 205-pound sophomore and letting him carry the load.
But it was the arm of quarterback Dashaun Ferguson and the hands of Randy Leak that helped extend the Scots’ Southeastern Conference win streak to 22 games. The duo hooked up to convert a crucial 4th-and-4 play with 1:51 remaining inside the red zone, as Ferguson found Leak for nine yards on an out pattern.
“See the ball, be the ball, catch the ball — that’s all I did,” Leak said about his clutch catch.
From there, White carried the ball three times for 11 yards, plowing his way into the end zone from seven yards out on 3rd-and-6.
Pinecrest had one final opportunity to win it, driving to Scotland’s 22-yard line with five seconds left. On the game’s final play, Patriots quarterback Christian Ledbetter heaved a ball that sailed out of the back of the end zone, causing an eruption from the Scotland sideline as players and coaches mobbed one another in celebration.
The two teams were never separated by more than seven points throughout the contest and they combined for only three punts.
Scotland opened the scoring on its first offensive series when White scored a 15-yard touchdown a minute and 15 seconds. The drive was set up after Trevon Gibson returned the opening kickoff to the Pinecrest 44-yard line.
As quickly as the Scots built that momentum, it took one play for Pinecrest to take the air out of the raucous Pate Stadium atmosphere.
Jaylin Dickerson, a player that has garnered the attention of premier in-state colleges for his play this season, was handed the ball on a jet sweep play and was boxed in while running towards the Scotland sideline. Without hesitation, he reversed course and ran to the left side of the field, burning a Scotland defense that failed to contain him from the backside.
70 yards later, the Patriots scored the game’s second touchdown with only 93 seconds expired off the game clock.
Scotland’s Grant Ciarrocca missed a 28-yard field goal on the Scots’ never possession, but Pinecrest had no such trouble racking up more points. Ledbetter dove past the pylon for a 1-yard score to put the Patriots up 14-7 after the first quarter.
The hosts reached pay dirt on their third offensive series as White added a 1-yard touchdown of his own to complete a 14-play drive, knotting the contest at 14-all.
Pinecrest fumbled on its next possession, but Scotland gave the ball right back at midfield when Redric McLean was stripped of the ball. Dickerson recovered it, setting the Patriots up in prime field position to tack on another score before halftime.
Kyle Corbett drilled a 45-yard field goal to give Pinecrest a 17-14 advantage at the break.
Though the Patriots got the ball back to begin the second half Scotland forced its first punt, then White galloped for a 51-yard touchdown five plays later to put the Scots back on top 21-17 with 7:02 left in the third quarter.
Pinecrest answered with a nine-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that took five minutes off the clock, as Ledbetter reached the end zone again on a 3-yard rush. The big play of the drive came when the senior quarterback found Sean Pollard, one of the top offensive lineman in the state who recently converted to tight end, for a 39-yard gain.
White toted the ball five times on the following Scotland possession and Ferguson completed three passes to Leak, including a 14-yard score on a bubble screen to put the Scots back on top 28-24 with 10:48 remaining in the game.
The Scots’ defense forced Pinecrest to punt the ball on the next series to give the ball back to the offense for a chance to put the game out of reach. Scotland gained two first downs on the drive, but the Patriots stuffed White for no gain on back to back runs to force a 4th-and-4 at the Pinecrest 46-yard line.
Ciarrocca booted a line drive punt into the hands of Dickerson, who was standing at the 20-yard line to return it, and he wiggled his way out of traffic and blew past the Scotland punt coverage team for a 85-yard touchdown. The score sent the Patriots’ crowd into a frenzy with 4:44 left to go.
“Dickerson is a great player,” said Scotland head coach Richard Bailey. “I told our kids was a major Division-I guy and he played like it.”
But it was a touchdown that occurred with too much time left on the clock.
Starting from its own 31-yard line, Scotland calmly drove down the field for the game-winning score. White gained 14 yards on his first two carries of the series, the Ferguson completed a 28-yard pass to Leak. After gaining six yards on first down, White was stuffed for no gain on the next play then Pinecrest blew up a Leak reception that went for a minimal gain.
But on 4th-and-4, Leak hauled in one of the biggest receptions of his career, diving for the catch on a well-placed ball from Ferguson.
“The corner was worried about getting beat deep because Randy had already gotten over him one time,” Bailey said. “We were able to get great timing, great catch and great throw.”
Scotland improved to 8-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play with the win while the loss dropped Pinecrest to 7-1 and 1-1 in the conference.
“This was one of the best high school games I’ve ever seen or been a part of, it had that championship feeling and it was an unbelievable atmosphere here tonight,” Bailey said.
The Scots will return to Pate Stadium next week to host Hoke.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.