WARDLAW 34, CAROLINA 20
JOHNSTON — Friday night's SCISA 8-Man football semifinal between Carolina Academy and Wardlaw Academy opened with a fireworks show. Wardlaw running back Malik Lee closed the game with some fireworks of his own.
Wardlaw's sophomore sensation broke open a tight game with three rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter to carry the host Patriots to a 34-20 victory. With the win, Wardlaw is headed back to the SCISA 8-Man state championship game to defend its title from a year ago.
“He was ready,” Wardlaw coach Mark Rodgers said of Lee. “He was ready to tote a load. We played the cards we were dealt and he had a hot hand tonight.”
Lee finished the night with 28 carries for 299 yards and four touchdowns, as well as a 55-yard receiving touchdown. Naturally, he officially slammed the door on the Bobcats by intercepting quarterback Ken Parker in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
The late-game drama was the complete opposite of a sloppy first half that saw the teams combine for three fumbles and a pair of interceptions. Wardlaw shrugged off its early miscues and dominated in crunch time.
“We tell them that life is filled with adversities, and you've got to deal with it,” Rodgers said. “A real man's going to get up and go to work the next morning, so that's what we try to preach.”
Wardlaw's (10-1) opening drive ended on a fourth down stop by the Bobcats at their own 18-yard line. Carolina (10-2) failed to capitalize on the positive momentum gained after the stop, fumbling near midfield. Bennett Rhoads exploded through the middle of the Carolina offensive line and jarred the ball loose from Bobcats running back Greg Beckum. Kerry Cockrell recovered the loose ball at the Wardlaw 46-yard line.
Like their opponents, the Patriots squandered an opportunity to build momentum on the ensuing possession. A fumble after a completed pass returned the ball to the Bobcats on their own 10-yard line.
Beckum carried the load offensively for Carolina for most of Friday night's game, carrying the ball 25 times for 142 yards. He notched eight carries on the Bobcats' 15-play, 90-yard scoring march. Carolina went 3-for-3 on fourth down conversions on the drive that bridged the first and second quarters. Ken Parker found Dylan Moore for a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Bobcats ahead, 6-0, with 8:08 to play in the first half.
After another Wardlaw fumble, Carolina found itself back in business. But another promising drive saw the Bobcats approach Wardlaw's red zone before their fourth down luck ran out when Beckum was stopped about three yards shy of a first down.
A couple of carries by Lee quickly moved the Patriots to the 45-yard line. After a timeout, Manly hit Lee with a 55-yard scoring strike to knot the score at 6 with 1:01 to play. Manly, a junior, had a flawless night passing the ball. He completed all five of his passes for 105 yards and the touchdown to Lee.
Wardlaw's defense matched the offense's big play with one of its own. Ernest Woodward intercepted Parker on the first play after the touchdown and returned the ball to the Bobcats' 16-yard line. Lee only needed one run to score from there, and his touchdown scamper with 33 seconds to play gave Wardlaw a 12-6 lead that it would carry into halftime.
A 6-yard touchdown run by Parker on Carolina's opening drive of the first half tied the game, and it would stay that way until the first play of the last period. Lee's 15-yard scoring burst and subsequent two point conversion put the Patriots back on top, 20-12.
After making another critical fourth down stop, Wardlaw found itself on its own 32-yard line. Lee, who ran harder as the game grew longer, needed just two carries to reach the end zone. He gave the Patriots a 14-point advantage with his 53-yard touchdown sprint just over three minutes into the fourth.
Parker refused to quit, notching his second rushing touchdown of the game, this one a 28-yarder, just four plays later to bring the Bobcats within six. Parker ended the game with 63 rushing yards to go along with his 53 passing yards, accounting for three total touchdowns.
Lee once again had an answer. He ripped Carolina's defense for 51 more yards on Wardlaw's next possession, outracing the Bobcat secondary for a 32-yard touchdown with 5:43 remaining to cap the evening's scoring at 34-20. His interception of Parker two drives later made it official and sent the Patriots back to the state championship game.
“I'm just happy to be there,” a jubilant Rodgers said with a laugh. “I'm just happy to be there.”
Wardlaw will face St. John's Christian on Friday at a site to be determined for the SCISA 8-Man state championship.
C 0 6 6 8 – 20
W 0 12 0 22 – 34
C-Ken Parker 7 pass to Dylan Moore (conversion failed) 8:08
W–Holton Manly 55 pass to Malik Lee (conversion failed) 1:01
W–Malik Lee 16 run (conversion failed) 0:33
C-Parker 6 run (conversion failed) 9:29
W–Lee 15 run (Lee run) 11:57
W–Lee 53 run (conversion failed) 9:17
C-Parker 28 run (Keith McKenzie run) 5:43
W–Lee 32 run (Lee run) 5:43
C-Greg Beckum 25-142, Keith McKenzie 10-79, Ken Parker 8-63-2, Dylan Moore 11-37. Totals 54-321-2.
W–Malik Lee 28-299-4, Kerry Cockrell 5-22, Holton Manly 7-18, Ed Williams 2-8. Totals 42-347-4.
C-Ken Parker 5-15-53-1TD-2INT.
W–Holton Manly 5-5-105-1TD-0INT, Malik Lee 0-1.
C-Garrett Weaver 2-37, Keith McKenzie 2-9, Dylan Moore 1-7-1. Totals 5-53-1.
W–Malik Lee 1-55-1, Rycharde Coates 2-21, Ernest Woodward 1-17, Dylan Seaman 1-12. Totals 5-105-1.
W–Malik Lee, Ernest Woodward.