Barons edge Martin County with key plays in overtime
Published 4:20 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023
GATESVILLE – Of the 111 combined plays from scrimmage here Friday night, it all boiled to just two snaps.
DaMari Cooper scored on a fourth down run in overtime and Jaden Parker picked off a pass in the endzone three plays later as Gates County held off a determined Martin County squad, 34-26, in Four Rivers Conference football action.
The victory allowed the Barons (4-2 overall and 1-0 in league play) to get the conference season off on the right foot. But the win didn’t come without some anxious moments for the home team as Gates County squandered a 26-14 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The visitors, highlighted by a key 37-yard gallop by Jaquavion Sheppard, used an eight-play, 61-yard drive early in the final period and trimmed their deficit to 26-20 when Kwahli Basnight scored on a seven-yard run.
After the Barons lost possession on downs at the Martin County 44 yardline with 7:25 left in regulation, the visitors benefitted from two critical penalties against Gates County to keep a drive alive. Both flags (one for roughing the punter and the other for pass interference) came on fourth down plays. The 13-play drive ended with Sheppard scoring on a one-yard run to tie the game at 26-26 with 1:15 left in regulation.
Martin County won the coin toss and elected to go on defense to start the overtime session. Gates County turned to its big man in that extra period as Cooper carried the ball on four consecutive snaps, the final one from one yard out. Parker darted into the endzone for the critical two-point conversion as GCHS held a 34-26 lead.
The pressure was now on Martin County and the visitors initially appeared up to the challenge as Sheppard dashed seven yards to the three yardline on first down. On second down, backup quarterback Tayvon Lee lost the handle on the snap, but managed to recover the fumble at the seven yardline. On third down, Lee looked to pass, but came under a heavy rush from the GCHS defense and his aerial was intercepted by Parker in the middle of the endzone, setting off a wild celebration on the Barons sideline.
Gates County also celebrated early in the game.
Taking the game’s opening kick-off, the Barons used a 55-yard run by Cooper – who used a key block along the way by Brien Vann – to highlight a seven play, 73-yard marched capped by DeAndrey Smith’s two-yard scoring run. Parker added the conversion run for an 8-0 lead at the 8:39 mark of the first quarter.
That score stood until the early stages of the second quarter where Martin County feasted on a Gates County mistake to tie the game. A high snap on a Barons punt allowed the visitors to take over at the GCHS 18 yardline. Sparked by a 13-yard run on a jet sweep by Anthony Killebrew, Martin County scored two plays later when Basnight crossed the goal line from one-yard out. Sheppard added the game-tying two-point conversion run at the 8:43 mark of the second period.
Gates County answered quickly when Cooper galloped 38 yards on a first down run following the ensuing kickoff. Four snaps later, Cooper scored on a one-yard run, handing the home team a 14-8 lead after the conversion failed.
Martin County came right back as a 33-yard pass from Basnight to Kel’Javious Moore highlighted a five play drive that ended with Basnight’s eight-yard run to the endzone. The conversion run failed, leaving the teams in a 14-14 stalemate with 3:21 left before halftime.
Gates County nearly broke that tie as a 29-yard sprint by Parker got the Barons into Martin County territory. Two plays later, Cooper reeled off a 21-yard run to the visitors seven yardline before time ran out.
The momentum of that drive carried over to Gates County’s first series of the second half. There, the Barons offensive line – Billy Smith, Vann, T.J. Reid, Carson Stallings, Jauheim Boone, Hunter Coates, and Amari Boyce – paved the way for an 11 play, 69-yard drive. That march ended with Cooper’s six-yard TD run, part of his big night that saw the bruising senior rush for 279 yards on 37 carries.
Gates County increased their lead to 26-14 on the next to the last snap of the third period where Cooper’s four-yard run to paydirt capped a short drive that was aided by a shanked punt from Martin County.
For the game, Gates County amassed 347 net yards, all on the ground. Parker added 56 rushing yards while Smith chipped in 40 yards.
Martin County (2-4 overall; 0-1 in league play) finished with 180 total yards, led by Sheppard’s 94 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
The Barons continue conference play this week when they host Bertie in a 7 p.m. game on Friday, Oct. 6.