By Cliff Mehrtens
HUNTERSVILLE – North Mecklenburg High’s football team learned a valuable lesson Friday night – play until the end.
The Vikings built a 23-0 lead with six minutes left, only to watch winless West Charlotte mount an improbable comeback. North Meck held on to win 23-22 in a wild finish to a MECKA 4A conference game.
“Our team’s got a lot of heart and a lot of fight,” North Meck coach Brad Baker said. “A win is still a win. Ugly or beautiful, I don’t care. We’re 3-3 (overall), 1-1 in the conference and one step closer to our goal. That’s to go to the playoffs.”
It wasn’t lack of effort that almost doomed the Vikings. It was lack of execution down the stretch.
North Meck led 23-6 when running back William Santiago fumbled, which West Charlotte defensive back Devin Mobley returned 53 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion trimmed North Meck’s to 23-14 with five minutes, 20 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, North Meck sailed a snap over punter Robbie Quinlan’s head, which gave West Charlotte possession at the 1-yard line. Lions quarterback Isiah Kelly avoided a sack and tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Terry.
Another two-point conversion – Kelly’s corner pass to Kier Way – cut North Meck’s lead to 23-22 with 40 seconds left.
West Charlotte then recovered an onside kick at the North Meck 36, causing serious concern on Vikings faces. But the defense stiffened and forced incompletions on Kelly’s final three passes.
The late drama overshadowed North Meck’s dominance for three quarters. The offense was effective running and passing. The defense filled gaps and put a heavy pass rush against Kelly.
“Tonight, I thought our offensive line came to play,” Baker said. “They’ve been taking some lumps the past few weeks. We had protection issues and run-block issues. Early on, the ground game was running, which opened up our short passes and we hit some long passes. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
North Meck quarterback Nolan Beasley was 18-of-29 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Santiago carried 27 times for 148 yards, including a 51-yarder on the Vikings’ first play from scrimmage.
North Meck took a 7-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter on Beasley’s perfect 12-yard fade pass to Stephen Langford. After North Meck’s Chris Moore recovered a fumble, Beasley connected on a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Tyron Ervin, who bowled over a tackler along the sideline. Bryce Cracknell’s 27-yard field goal gave North Meck a 17-0 lead three minutes before halftime.
Beasley’s third scoring pass, a 12-yarder to wideout TayRey Tabron, gave North Meck a 23-0 lead late in the third quarter.