North Carolina High School football action Friday night

A Cox Mill defender (50) gets an escort from teammates Robert Peterson (left) and Wesley Poindexter as he scoops up a fumble and returns it for a touchdown against Mount Pleasant Friday night.

MOUNT PLEASANT – If someone were to look at the scoreboard at the end of Friday night’s football matchup between the Mount Pleasant Tigers and Cox Mill Chargers without watching the game, they’d likely think it was a nice, comfortable 42-21 victory for the Chargers.

However, that person would be wrong. With a little more than seven minutes to go in the third quarter, Mount Pleasant was the dominant team. The Tigers had the ball more than 20 minutes in the first half, then went on two straight touchdown drives to open the second half without the Chargers’ offense seeing the field.

“I think their coaching staff does a great job,” said Cox Mill coach Craig Stewart said of the Tigers. “I think their kids play hard over there. Any time we come over here, it’s a battle. I told the kids I’m excited that we picked it up after the initial start to the second half. We picked it up a little bit, and you could see us come alive. “Defensively, we picked it up and played a lot better,” Stewart continued. “Offensively, we moved the ball, and we made some big plays. That’s what it takes to win tight ball games like this. They’re a good team and they played hard. We had the opportunity to get over the top of them a couple of times and score on some long plays, and that helped us.”

The lone first-half bright spot for the Chargers was a 54-yard touchdown pass on a one-play drive from quarterback Varney Farhnbullah to wide receiver Barry Robertson as time expired.

“(The Tigers) held on to the ball,” Stewart said. “We knew if they had the ball, they’re big and their running backs do a great job of running in behind them, and they gashed us. Thankfully, early on we were able to keep them out of the end zone. But then they got down and scored.

“You never know what’s going to happen, and we happened to get back behind them and scored. We told them at halftime, though, ‘That was a one-play deal. We’re not playing very good. Right now, they’re beating us at everything, and we need to get a little bit better.’”

They did get better, even though it took nearly half the third quarter for the offense to see the field. An offense could be forgiven for showing some rust after not having had the ball for the length of halftime plus the first five minutes of the third quarter.

This time, however, it took the Cox Mill offense only two plays to find pay dirt. After a big return was wiped out by penalties, Farhnbullah found Robertson again for 59 yards and the touchdown. Then the Cox Mill defense forced a three-and-out to put the ball back in the hands of the Chargers at their own 42 with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter. This time, the offense put together a more methodical seven-play drive, capped off by a 21-yard pass from Farhnbullah to wide receiver Luke Sutton with 45.5 seconds left in the third.

What had been a dominant performance by Mount Pleasant through the first five minutes of the second half became a brand-new ballgame by the end of the third, and the Chargers had all the momentum. After forcing a turnover on downs and then making it 28-21 shortly thereafter, Cox Mill was in the driver’s seat.

Yet the Tigers kept prowling. They continued to drive on the ground, getting inside the Cox Mill 35 and were able to control the tempo and the line of scrimmage. Then on a sweep play to the left of the offense, the ball came out, and a Charger defender streaked up the field for a 63-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

“It took a lot of pressure off our offense,” Stewart said. “It took a lot of pressure off the defense, too. It was big because it put us up two scores. There was a penalty so we were going to kick it deep and put them back deep. They ended up driving down the field. So that kind of worried me because on their kickoffs, they were onside kicking it, and we couldn’t catch the ball to save our lives. We ended up keeping them out of the end zone, which was big. Then we scored the one at the end. Whatever we did, I did not want them getting into the end zone. Their kickoff team scared me.”

Farhnbullah was a huge part of why Cox Mill won. He was confident and consistently made good decisions with the ball, resulting in a night going 15-for-19 with 308 yards and five touchdowns.

“Right now, he’s making a lot of really good reads,” Stewart said. “With us, we’re doing a lot of (run-pass option) stuff. He’s not getting caught up in the moment. That’s important for us right now. We’ve talked about that a lot this year, ‘Just play within yourself, play within the scheme, and good things will happen.’ It did. Tonight, we could have easily let up a bit, and we didn’t. I thought our kids, once we got them settled down, played as capable as we were able to play.”

Farhnbullah could not have done it alone. Robertson and Sutton both had two touchdown receptions, Robertson’s were more than 50-yard scores. Wesley Poindexter even got in on the action, hooking up for a 73-yard touchdown late in the fourth after stepping in for Christian Henry, who got banged up earlier in the game.

“That’s what you’ve got to do in a tight ballgame,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to have guys who step up, and I thought our guys did. No letdowns or anything. With young guys, you just never know. I thought we kept playing hard. Not always smart, but we played hard.”

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