Six games ago, Grayson Willingham wasn’t even the starting quarterback for Weddington.
But when it mattered most with a berth in the 3AA state championship at stake, Willingham made the biggest play of the game, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run with just 24.4 seconds left to give Weddington a 24-21 win over rival Cuthbertson.
Willingham’s run capped a 12-play, 69-yard drive that took 3:38 and gave the Warriors the game-clinching points.
Weddington (14-1), No. 6 in the Observer Sweet 16, now hopes to make it a magical run when they take on Northern Guilford in the 3AA state championship game Saturday night (Dec. 13) at 8:05 p.m. at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
“It’s just incredible, that last play feels like I’m in a dream,” said Willingham, of the game-winning score. “… I knew I was going to get hit hard at the goal line, but all I thought about was scoring for my team. We really put it together on the last drive. That’s all we’ve been working on lately is that two-minute drill.”
“I’m excited for our team and our kids and our school,” Weddington coach Tim Carson said. “This (state championship) is something our school hasn’t experienced, something I haven’t experienced. We just want to keep this (playoff) run going. We don’t want it to end.”
Cuthbertson junior quarterback Austin Kendall looked like he would lead his team to another dramatic comeback late in the fourth quarter when he marched the Cavaliers on a nine-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a perfect 16-yard touchdown pass to Byron Gaymon for a 21-17 lead with 4:07 left.
Kendall, who had helped lead Cuthbertson (11-4) to 10 straight wins coming into the game, had another big passing game, going 21 for 30 for 328 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Warriors’ defensive pressure got to Kendall and his team regularly in the second half, slowing the Cavaliers potent offense at times.
“We started getting some pressure with stunts and with just our four-man defensive front, especially in the second half,” Carson said. “Our defense really stepped up and got to Kendall. That was the key to the whole game for us.”
While Willingham (12-for-21, 163 yards and two touchdown passes) led the offense in the air, Warriors’ senior Mitchel Carson was big on the ground, rushing for 102 yards on 18 carries.
Meanwhile, Weddington senior Zach Goins was also huge in the passing game with catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.