A championship game with one-handed diving catches, brilliant runs and gutsy coaching decisions came down to the swing of an arm.
Charlotte Latin’s Ryan Ensor batted down a two-point conversion pass by Charlotte Christian quarterback Garrett Shrader with 31 seconds left Friday night, and the Hawks squeaked out a 28-27 victory for the state independent schools’ Division 1 title.
Latin, the state runner-up three straight years, completed a 12-0 season. Charlotte Christian, which rallied from a 21-6 deficit entering the final quarter, finished 10-2 – with both of its losses to the Hawks.
The visiting Knights, down 28-21 after Latin scored a touchdown with 2:33 remaining, drove 78 yards and scored on an 8-yard pass from Shrader to Ricky Kofoed.
Kicker Christian Vansickle came on the field for what would be a tying extra point, but Charlotte Christian coach Jason Estep decided to go for the victory. Shrader attempted a jump pass into the end zone, but Ensor swatted the ball down.
The Hawks recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock. Latin fans in the standing-room-only crowd that lined the sides of the field ran onto the playing surface to celebrate.
“I’m thankful it didn’t go to overtime because we were getting tired,” Latin coach Larry McNulty said. “Our kids made the big plays when they had to, and batting down that (conversion) pass was really a big play.”
After the Knights scored twice in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 21, Latin drove 64 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, scoring on a 5-yard run by junior DeMarkes Stradford and a conversion kick by Andrew Bowen. The big play on that drive was a 26-yard pass from Bates Jones to Ryan Ensor on fourth-and-17 at the Charlotte Christian 36. Ensor made a diving catch at the right sideline, and the Hawks scored two plays later.
That set up the dramatics in the closing two-plus minutes.
Quote: “After finishing second for three years in a row, this team deserved to win, and I’m really happy for them.” – Latin coach McNulty.
Records: Charlotte Christian finished 10-2; Charlotte Latin finished 12-0.
Worth mentioning: McNulty, the subject of retirement rumors throughout the season, wouldn’t address that issue after the game. “That’s all I’ve got for you tonight,” he told reporters when questions moved from the game to his future. … Both quarterbacks – Latin’s Jones and Christian’s Shrader – threw for about 200 yards, but one of the game’s many big plays was a 34-yard halfback pass thrown by Latin’s Christopher Elliott for a touchdown. … Stradford finished with 160 yards rushing on 26 carries. … Christian’s Justus Woods ran 26 times for 114 yards.
Charlotte Christian 6 0 0 21 - 27
Charlotte Latin 7 7 7 7 --28
L – DeMarkes Stradford 6 run (Andrew Bowen kick)
C – Justus Woods 1 run (run failed)
L – Conrad Song 34 pass from Christopher Elliott (Bowen kick)
L – Melvin Rouse 27 pass from Bates Jones (Bowen kick)
C – Woods 22 run (Christian Vansickle kick)
C – Terrelle Brown 34 pass from Garrett Shrader (Josh Eboboku pass from Shrader)
L – Stradford 5 run (Bowen kick)
C – Ricky Kofoed 8 pass from Stradford (pass failed)