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PIKEVILLE — Conventional football wisdom dictates that when a defense is facing fourth down, any deep ball should be batted down, not intercepted, to preserve field position.
Greene Central High senior A.J. Dupree does not require such gridiron norms.
Dupree, a trendy pick to win both the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year award in the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference, showed why Friday night against Charles B. Aycock.
With the Rams trailing 35-30 and forcing CBA into a fourth-and-28, CBA sophomore quarterback Clay Matthews threw a deep ball that at worst, was designed to act like a punt.
Instead, Dupree turned it into the backbreaker. He intercepted Matthews and weaved his way 87 yards for the game-winning TD, lifting Greene Central to the eventual 38-35 victory in Hardy Talton Stadium. It was part of 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for Greene Central.
The Rams evened their record at 1-1, while the Falcons, a 3-A member of the split 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference, fell to 1-1.
“I told people he’s a special player on offense and defense,” Greene Central head coach Allen Wooten said of Dupree. “I think he proved that tonight. We’ve got to play mentally tougher. We did some really mentally dumb things again tonight that if we want to have the year I think we can, we’ve got to rectify those things.”
It was heartbreak for the Golden Falcons, who thought they had secured a knockout blow six plays earlier. Matthews ran a quarterback waggle and found junior Alijuan Moore down the far sideline for what appeared to be a 62-yard TD and a two-possession lead. But while the band began to play, the officials indicated that Moore stepped out of bounds at the Greene Central 18. Dupree’s interception for a touchdown with 4:11 remaining ended the drive.
“We could have won if the head coach wasn’t so stupid,” C.B. Aycock head coach Steve Brooks said of his fourth-down play call. “I made a terrible call, and our football team’s good enough to be 2-0. We played a very good football team, and I was trying to throw a punt there. And probably should have just handed the ball to Tae (Jackson) with the night he’s had and let our defense play. I’m just...stupid.”
CBA took over on its own 40 yard line in the closing seconds, but senior Saquon Connor’s interception extinguished the Falcons’ last chance.
Offensively, Dupree finished with 179 yards on 14 carries, taking the Rams’ first play from scrimmage 61 yards for a touchdown. Dupree struck again in the second quarter on a powerful run, breaking at least two tackles near the line of scrimmage on his way to a 72-yard jaunt.
Greene Central escaped with the win behind Dupree’s heroics, despite its own penalty issues. The Rams were flagged 13 times for 104 yards, compared to CBA’s 10 penalties for 81 yards.
Trailing 20-14 in the second quarter, Greene Central surged ahead on an 8-yard run from junior quarterback B.J. Corbitt. Dupree tacked on the conversion.
But before halftime, CBA went ahead on an alert special teams play from Seth Shepherd. With players standing around a short punt, Shepherd alertly picked it up and darted in for the 49-yard score. Junior Taevian Jackson, who finished with 150 yards on 27 carries, polished off a physical drive for CBA in the third quarter, putting the hosts up 35-22 before Greene Central’s unlikely rally in the fourth. Corbitt dashed in from 23 yards, his second rushing TD, to make it 35-30 Falcons with 8:10 to go.
The Rams intercepted Matthews four times. One of them was by senior linebacker Brandon Gilbert, whose second-quarter interception set up Corbitt’s first rushing score from 8 yards out.
“We talked about adversity today, and I felt like we had a lot of adversity tonight with the yellow flags,” Wooten said. “It’s one of those things that sometimes, the reputation precedes itself. If we just keep our mouth shut and do the right thing, which I think we can learn to, I think we can have a good year.”