Craig’s score, conversion lifts Maiden past Newton-Conover in 2 OT

Blue Devils’  junior running back Amarion Craig (3) was the team’s leading rusher and was huge in the closing moments. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)Red Devils’ tailback Allan Shade (24) pushing his way through the middle of the Blue Devil defense on Friday, November 1 at Thomas E. Brown Stadium. (Photo by Cody Dalton/ CSD Photography)
Cody Dalton
O-N-E Contributor

In exactly 50 meetings of their annual prep football rivalry, Maiden and Newton-Conover had never had a game go into overtime — until Friday.

Behind a touchdown run and successful two-point conversion plunge by junior running back Amarion Craig, the Blue Devils bested the cross-town rival Red Devils 29-28 in double overtime on Friday night at Thomas E. Brown Stadium.

It was the second-straight week that Maiden had won a football game on the final play of the contest following last Friday’s 28-26 victory against East Lincoln on a 25-yard field goal by Adrian Campos with no time remaining.

“Two weeks in a row and two games like that — it’s unbelievable,” said Maiden head football coach Will Byrne. “It’s a testament to our kids and their belief in us as coaches and each other as teammates. We have great kids. They fight hard and they never give up.”

Maiden (7-3, 4-2) scored first in Friday’s game on a two-yard touchdown by Craig at the 8:33 mark of the first quarter, taking a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point.

However, Newton-Conover (6-4, 4-2) answered with a 29-yard touchdown run by Allen Wilfong to take a 7-6 lead after one quarter of play.

The two teams would once again trade touchdowns in the second quarter, leading to a 14-14 deadlock at halftime.

The Red Devils added to their lead with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justice Craig to wide receiver Zane Redmond with 7:20 left in the second quarter.

Maiden answered with the tying score with only 9.5 seconds left until halftime when quarterback Ethan Rhodes found wide receiver Dylan Abernethy in the corner of the end zone on a 9-yard strike.

Rhodes’ two-point conversion run put the teams tied at two touchdowns each at the break.

At halftime, Byrne talked to his players about the importance of controlling the line on both sides of the ball.

“We told them that the team that plays low in the second half on offensive and defensive line would win,” he said.

Maiden’s chances of winning took a hit in the third quarter when Craig left with an apparent knee injury. However, the junior — driven by one word — would return to the game a few plays later.

“It’s Newton. When we play Newton, that’s our rival. I just wanted to play all four quarters,” Craig said. “I had to keep going.”

Byrne was proud of the junior tailback for the grit and determination he showed in the contest.

“Someone said (Craig) heard a pop, which I was scared. The next thing I know, they say that Amarion is ready to go. I told them to put him in,” Bryne said. “He’s running really, really hard and been doing it all year. He’s a tough running back. He’s really exceeded our expectations, too. He’s grown up a lot as a young man. He’s just doing a heck of a job for us. He’s tough. He’s a tough running back. He did a great job tonight of finishing it off there at the end.”

Just as they had done in the first half, Maiden and Newton-Conover continued to remain tied — trading seven punts during the second half, including four in the fourth quarter.

The last of those punts, which was by Maiden, would be short, putting the Red Devils in a position to win on a 36-yard field goal by Addison Hayes with just three seconds left.

Hayes’ first attempt at the field goal would sail through the uprights, but not before Byrne called a timeout to attempt to ice the Red Devils senior kicker.

“I ran out there right before the snap, and (the official) saw me and granted us a timeout right before the snap,” Byrne said. “Thank God because it obviously went through.”

Hayes’ next attempt would be missed, but a false start by Newton-Conover negated the play, pushing Hayes’ final field goal attempt back to 41 yards. The kick would be blocked by the Blue Devils, sending the game into overtime.

Maiden started the first extra session with possession of the football, scoring on a 6-yard touchdown run by Craig — his second of the game — to make it 21-14 Blue Devils.

However, Newton-Conover answered by converted a key 3rd and 3 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Wilfong, tying the contest at 21-21 to send the game into a second overtime.

The Red Devils continued their positive momentum, taking the lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by Allan Shade.

Needing a score to stay alive, Maiden’s hopes of winning came down to a 4th and 3, and the Blue Devil line continued to push, making a hole large enough for Craig to score.

Following the touchdown, Byrne knew the decision that needed to be made.

“I knew we were going for two if we scored,” he said. “At that point, it just brought back memories from East Lincoln two years ago when we won in double overtime. It was the same scenario. They scored first in the second overtime and kicked it. Defensively inside the 10, it’s tough, especially when Newton gets in that heavy set. They were getting movement on us, too. I wasn’t sure if we could stop them if we got to another (overtime), and I said we might as well go for it now.”

Using the same play as the touchdown run, but not shifting tight end Chris Morgan in motion to make the Red Devils think it was a different play, Craig plunged over the goal line for the game-winning conversion as his teammates rushed the field to celebrate with him.

“There was a lot of pressure, but I just did it,” Craig said of the winning score. “I just needed to get to the end zone. We kept pushing, getting low and getting physical. That’s how our line is. That’s how it’s always been.”

Friday’s game marked just the third time that the annual rivalry game was decided by a single point — Maiden has won all three, including a 28-27 victory at home in 1994 and 21-20 win at Newton-Conover in 2000.

It was also the fifth-straight win for Maiden against Newton-Conover, and the Blue Devils have won eight of the past nine meetings against the Red Devils in a rivalry that started back in 1973 (Maiden leads series 28-21-1).

“Any time you can beat your biggest rival, it’s great,” Byrne said. “Newton has a really good football team. Coach Pack does a great job over there. I have a lot of respect for him and that program.”

Both teams wrap up regular-season play this Friday with their attention focused on playoff positioning.

Newton-Conover will try to bounce back when it hosts East Lincoln (8-2, 4-2) this Friday on ‘Senior Night.’ The Mustangs defeated West Lincoln 63-35 on Friday night.

Meanwhile, Maiden will try to clinch the second seed in the South Fork 2A when it travels to face rival Lincolnton (3-7, 1-5), which fell 49-7 to conference-leading North Lincoln on Friday.