Mars Hill, NC – Trailing 30-15 late in the third quarter, the North Greenville Crusaders mounted a furious comeback and tied the game 30-30 with 8:34 to play, but Mars Hill scored on a fourth and one play with 1:41 left to win 36-30 at Meares Stadium.
The season opener for both teams was a true tale of two different halves. Mars Hill put NGU in a huge hole in the first half as the Crusaders started their first two drives on their own five and two yard lines after punts pinned them. Two fumbles by North Greenville led to a safety and a 58 yard fumble recovery gave the Lions a 16-0 lead. NGU quarterback Regginald Lewis fumbled in the end zone for a safety with 7:34 left in the first period, Mars Hill tight end Allen Woerner caught a three yard touchdown pass from Jon Richt and Michael Robinson scooped up a fumble to send shock waves toward the NGU side of the field.
North Greenville, which outgained Mars Hill in total yardage for the game 405 to 258, began its comeback as freshman Freddie Martino scored the Crusaders’ first touchdown of the season on a 13 yard sweep to the left side with 1:02 left in the first. Lewis’ 52 yard pass to Sean Wright set up Martino’s score on the next play, and Danny Prestwood’s extra point was good. MHC 16, NGU 7.
The play of junior defensive back Jereme Green in the first quarter sent a message to Mars Hill – be prepared, our defense is going to battle you. Green had a pass break up and a sack of Richt for a loss to eight yards.
Mars Hill added a Josh Young 90 yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the kickoff after NGU’s score that made the halftime score 23-7.
Korn, the Clemson University and Byrnes High School veteran, made his North Greenville debut with 2:24 left in the second quarter, and ran for seven yards on his first play. He then hit Wright for 13 yards and moved the Crusaders to the Mars Hill seven before the Lion defense forced a field goal, which freshman Trey Walpole missed wide right from 27 yards out.
Freshman Raheem Hughes had three returns for over 25 yards that gave NGU good field position on MHC kickoffs.
The second half was a Red Storm of a North Greenville comeback where Crusader quarterbacks Lewis and Korn combined for. Lewis took the Crusaders on a 12 play, 75 yard drive and scored from one yard out to bring NGU to within 23-13. Lewis hit tight end Lawrence Chastang on the two-point conversion to make it 23-15 at 9:24 of the third.
Pre-season All-American Jonas Randolph, which NGU held to a meager 45 yards on the day, asserted himself on a two yard run for a touchdown that made it 30-15 at the 6:56 mark of the third. Richt hit P.J. Gore on a 56 yard play on third down to keep the drive going.
NGU’s comeback effort kicked into high gear when Lewis moved the ball on a long drive orchestrated by mixing runs by the freshman running back ‘Jamey Gang’ – Teryan Rucker, Idris Anderson, and Marcus Wilson. Wilson scored his first career touchdown from four yards out untouched. Trey Walpole’s extra point made it 30-22 with 2:28 left in the third. That capped a controlling 12 play, 80 yard drive for NGU.
With the NGU defense bottling up the Lions, The Crusader offense methodically got NGU back in the game. Time of possession was key in the second half, and NGU dominated this category with 36:15 to 23:45 for the Lions.
Using staunch ball control tactics, Chadwell’s offense started its next drive at the 37 yard line. Korn came off the bench to relieve a cramping Lewis, and moved North Greenville 14 plays and 63 yards that covered 6:22. Anderson dashed into the end zone from three yards out to make it 30-28 with 8:34 left in the game. Chadwell then went for two again, and Korn nailed Martino on the two-point conversion with two defenders hanging on and dove into the end zone to tie the score at 30-30.
A long run back on the ensuing kickoff seemed to perhaps crush NGU’s victory hopes as the Lions began what could have been the game winning drive at the NGU 40. Randolph carried three straight times, but on third and three with 7:15 left, NGU’s junior defensive tackle Mark Smith sacked Richt for a 13 yard loss that forced a punt.
For the third time in the game, Mars Hill punter Michael Ashley pinned the Crusaders inside their own five yard line. North Greenville started what could have been the winning drive at its three yard line and moved to the 11 before the drive stalled. Freshman punter Jacob Buckley then boomed a massive punt of his own, knocking it 65 yards that moved Mars Hill way back. However, Richt hit Gore for 31 yards, and Randolph rushed for 19 yards to make it fourth and one with 1:25 to play. Richt read the NGU defense’s efforts to stop Randolph and get the ball back, and Woerner slipped off the line and caught a 26 yard touchdown pass with 1:41 left that made it 36-30.
Korn tried to rally the Crusaders on the final drive, but Mars Hill stopped the final drive on fourth and two with 27 seconds left.
Lewis and Korn both passed for 94 yards (Lewis 6-11 and Korn 8-14) for a total of 188 yards for NGU. The ‘Jamey Gang’ of freshman running backs stunned Mars Hill’s defense for a two year season high of 217 yards. Rucker led with 85 yards on 10 carries, Anderson had 40 on 6 carries, Marcus Wilson had 28 yards on 14 carries, Reggie Lewis had 32 yards and sophomore Justin Beasley had 25.
An emotional Jamey Chadwell knew that his team had a chance to win the game. “I can’t say enough about the effort of our guys gave us. They fought hard and it hurts me because we had a chance to win the game at the end. We had a couple of mistakes on our kicking game early and got in a hole. But we got backed up early and had lousy field position and with a young quarterback, we made put the ball on the ground. But, we got a touchdown and got something and missed a field goal that might have made it 23-10 at halftime. We did move the ball up and down the field in the second half.”
“I think we showed we are capable of being a good football team and we’re heading in the right direction. Mars Hill is a top three team in the South Atlantic Conference and I think we showed we can play with them on their home field and have chance to win. I feel confident in progress our programs’ making.”
Next week, the Crusaders travel to Charleston to take on state rival Charleston Southern on Saturday, Sept. 4. Chadwell, who came to NGU from Charleston Southern last season, says it will be a tough challenge for NGU, but they’ll be ready. “CSU is a great team, and we might be 100 times better next week and still not win because they have 63 scholarships. Our team will go down there believing they’ve got a chance to win.”
“We’ve made a ton of progress from last year and we’ve got kids who care about the university, who care about each other and care about being successful. I know they’re hurting right now, and I hurt for them. But, the Lord all has plans for all of us and we know it will be something special. We’ll just have to wait and see what it is!”