Crest High running back Rhaheim Ledbetter said he knew Friday's N.C. 3AA semifinal at Charlotte Catholic would be a tough battle. But he said he had no idea how big a role he would play in it.
Ledbetter, playing nearly every down, rushed 26 times for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a key interception in the fourth quarter and several pass breakups that helped the Chargers upset previously unbeaten Catholic 35-28.
Crest (11-3) will play Northern Guilford in Friday's N.C. 3AA final in Chapel Hill. It'll be a rematch of Northern's 21-20 win in the 2010 championship game. Ledbetter said he think it'll be different this time.
"It feels great to get another shot at a state championship," he said. "This time, we're going to get it done."
Ledbetter continually hurt Catholic with long runs, where he broke tackles or ran out of a clump of tacklers for his touchdown scores. But Catholic also hurt itself.
The Cougars (13-1) had three touchdowns called back for penalties, and suffered five turnovers. Catholic fumbled the second half kickoff, giving Crest a short field, and the Chargers quickly gained a 21-14 lead.
On its next possession, Catholic looked to be driving for a tying score, but quarterback Jack Brodowicz was sacked and fumbled at the Crest 24.
Crest then appeared to fumble and give Catholic the ball right back. But the officials said the ball carrier was down before he fumbled.
On the next play, Ledbetter's 57-yard run gave Crest a 28-14 advantage.
"We caught a lot of bad breaks," said Catholic coach Jim Oddo. "It was one of those ballgames. Both teams played hard, but they caught a few more breaks than we did."
This is what Oddo is talking about. Now down two scores, Catholic closed to within 28-21 on a 15-yard, fourth down pass from Brodowicz to Tyler Pumneo. Catholic then recovered a Ledbetter fumble and got the ball at Crest's 35.
After moving to the Crest 22, with the momentum fully shifted, the Cougars quarterback overthrew a wide open receiver. Crest's Brandon Smith intercepted, and the Chargers drove 52 yards in nine plays for a 35-21 lead.
Catholic got one more score, from Alex Sabates, with 62 seconds left, but the Chargers recovered the onside kick.
"We were just a little bit off on everything," Oddo said. "The kids played hard and did all you can ask. We had our shots. They did a good job of stopping us the first half, but it's still 14-14 to start the second half and then we fumble the kickoff to give them a short field. It was a tough game."
After it was over, Crest's Ledbetter looked like he could barely stand up. Crest had 359 yards total offense and Ledbetter had 272 of them. Catholic, for comparison, had 275 yards as a team. Ledbetter also played defensive back and was involved on a lot of pass plays and run stops.
"I'm gone, man," he said. "I'm done. But as long as we get the win, I'm OK. I knew it would be a battle because we beat them here last year (31-10 in the 2010 semifinals). I had no idea I'd play this way. But it's all about the team. If not for the blocking, I couldn't have done what I did. It's a team win, man, a team win."