by Staff Writer
Davidson Day’s football player with a season-long string of offensive highlights turned around the state championship game while playing defense.
Will Grier, the Patriots’ dynamic quarterback who played sparingly at safety, forced and returned a fumble 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter of their 41-26 victory against Fayetteville Trinity Christian in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III championship on Nov. 11.
The play was daring, dramatic and, to Davidson Day’s fans at the “home” game at Johnson C. Smith University, delightful.
The game was tied at 20 after Davidson Day had bolted to a 20-6 halftime lead. The Patriots committed turnovers on the first two possessions of the second half, which Trinity Christian parlayed into touchdowns.
Another turnover – Davidson Day’s third in six minutes – had swung momentum the wrong direction. Trinity Christian’s Jay Brown (167 rushing yards) bolted into Davidson Day’s secondary, where he was met by Grier.
What started out as a routine tackle turned the game.
“I think it was more instinct than anything,” Grier said. “I kind of hit him on the side, and my arm got stuck under his. Once I felt that, I just turned and ripped (the ball out).”
“We’d made some stupid turnovers, so I was thinking it’d be good for us to get one.”
Suddenly, Grier was racing 60 yards in the opposite direction for a 27-20 lead.
“That shifted the tide,” Davidson Day coach Chad Grier said. “To me, that was the difference in the game.”
The Patriots added another defensive gem on Trinity Christian’s next possession. Brown scored on a 3-yard run to cut Davidson Day’s lead to 27-26 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter. Trinity Christian attempted a two-point conversion run for the potential lead, but the middle of the Patriots’ line stopped Brown a yard short.
Davidson Day added two fourth-quarter touchdowns on Grier’s 3-yard pass to Jordan Young and Grier’s 1-yard run.
To cap his sterling performance, Grier intercepted a pass on Trinity Christian’s final possession.
The Patriots (11-1) celebrated the rarity of a first-year varsity team winning a state championship. Sixteen of the 28 players were freshmen or sophomores. Only three were seniors.
“We’re a young team, but these guys have never played young,” Chad Grier said. “These guys expected to win, and they won. They absolutely deserve this, and I couldn’t be more prouder of them.”
Davidson Day didn’t wilt mentally when its 14-point lead disappeared in the third quarter. Instead, it stuck to the game plan, and made key plays.
“We gave it our all – offense, defense and special teams,” receiver Evan Gates said. “We kept our heads up and played as hard as we had all game. Winning this feels better than Christmas.”
Davidson Day was one of the state’s biggest surprises, winning its first eight games. The pass-happy Patriots averaged 43.6 points per game.
Grier completed 250 of 398 passes (63 percent) for 3,785 yards and 49 touchdowns, including four in the championship game. He also rushed for 925 yards and 11 touchdowns on 97 carries.
Aaron Seward caught 65 passes, including 10 in the title game, for 1,075 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gates had 53 receptions for 850 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan Young had 13 scoring catches among his 50 receptions for 675 yards, and Jordan Brown (32 catches, 563 yards, eight touchdowns) and Mike Stevens (27 catches, 469 yards, seven touchdowns) were effective targets.
Linebacker Tre Hunt led the defense with 147 tackles and seven sacks, followed by Lamar Briggs (59 tackles), Brown (56) and Gates (52). Young had a team-high five interceptions.
And on the chilly championship night, as Davidson Day had the ball and the game clock was ticking off the final 30 seconds, Chad Grier yelled from the sideline to get his quarterback/son Will’s attention.
“Hey, Will,” Chad Grier said, raising both arms over his head. “Victory!”