Nov 17, 2012
Scotland High coach Richard Bailey paid Friday night's opponent, E.E. Smith, the compliment of saying that the Golden Bulls arrived at Pate Stadium "well prepared."
But the Bulls' preparation wasn't quite enough to topple the Scots, who held off a tenacious Bulls' offense to win 35-28 in the third round of the NCHSAA 4-A state playoffs.
Scotland (12-1) will visit 13-0 New Bern next Friday in a rematch of last year's Eastern regional final. The Scots, then under coach Chip Williams, pounded New Bern 61-28 in 2011 en route to the program's first state championship.
The Scotland defense held off a late charge by E.E. Smith (11-2) to earn the right to advance.
"I've got to give E.E. Smith a lot of credit," Bailey said. "They never quit, and their coaches were smart enough to find something that worked and stick with it."
That "something" was an inside rushing hole that running back Sulaiman Mustafaa found early in the night and exploited for a game-high 207 yards on 27 carries.
The Scots, awarded the top seed in the 4-A Mideast pod over the No. 2 Golden Bulls, found opportunities of their own on offense. Scotland took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 15-yard run by Josh McPhatter.
The junior back finished the night with two touchdowns and 79 yards on 13 carries, second-best on the team behind sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe, who gained 164 yards and scored a touchdown in 22 carries. Ratliffe added another 80 in the air, completing four of 11 pass attempts.
The Bulls' offense struggled to move the ball in the first half and trailed 28-7 at halftime before sparking in the third quarter.
"In the second half, we came out a little weak, and they came out strong," Ratliffe said. "We had to get focused and get our minds back in the game."
With Mustafaa moving the ball down the field and 6-0, 250-pound fullback Dayvon Patterson punching the ball in at the goal line, the Bulls posted a pair of touchdowns in the third to pull within a score at 28-21.
Both teams added another touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Scotland couldn't run the clock down on a series that started at their own 42 with 3:57 left to play and punted away to start a Bulls drive at the Smith 10 with 2:23 to play.
Ultimately, it was an interception thrown by Bell and picked by Scots defender Tim McNeill on a second-and-6 attempt from the Bull 31 that guaranteed a Scot victory.
That turnover was the second of the night for the Bulls. The first, a fumble by Bell inside the Bulls' own red zone in the second quarter, led to a touchdown that put the Scots up by three scores at the half.
Bulls' coach Duran McLaurin said that those turnovers didn't tell the whole story.
"We could have played better throughout the first half," McLaurin said. "And I'll take Phillip Bell and my guys over anybody any day."
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