GRAYSON – East Carter finally wrestled the Barrel trophy from its county rival after nearly watching it slip away.
Down 14 points through one quarter, the Raiders got untracked and seemingly had the game in hand before needing to stave off a late West Carter comeback, 3934, in front of an estimated crowd of 4,000.
The Comets scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns — the fourth and fifth of the night for running back Leetavious Cline — then recovered an onside kick with 4:20 remaining.
West Carter, out of timeouts, picked up a first down at East’s 18 before being turned away. After a delay penalty and 3yard loss, the Comets tried to hit Cline with a pass down the sideline. But Raiders defensive back Micah Adams made a leaping interception with 2:11 left and East Carter ran out the clock for its first win over West since 2013.
“I’ve got no words,” an exhausted Adams said following a Raiders celebration. “Late in the game I’m suppose to ball hawk. I just made a play. It was a team effort, and we definitely wanted this one. They had a little bit of streak on us. Hopefully we can start our own streak.”
The victory carried even more significance because it allowed East Carter to start a season 4-0 for the first time 1994.
“That feels great,” Raiders coach Tim Champlin said. “I’m happy for the kids, our school and the community. To get this one off our back is special. A lot of alumni were coming up and hugging me.”
The Raiders had to overcome a monumental performance from Cline. The powerful and elusive junior returned an interception 41 yards to the end zone on the game’s third play from scrimmage.
He was just getting started. Cline broke off a 26-yard scoring run later in the first quarter as the Comets went up 14-0. He added TD runs of 15 and 2 yards, then set sail 86 yards on a punt return for his final score with 4:21 to go to pull his team within striking distance. “I thought we would be able to wear him down,” Champlin said. “But the harder we hit him, the harder he ran.”
East Carter offset the Comets’ star with a balanced effort. Quarterback Braden Hicks ran 3 yards for a TD early in the second half to give the Raiders their lead. Earlier, he connected with sophomore Dawson Witt for a 15-yard touchdown as part of a 143-yard passing night. Adams finished with four catches for 91 yards.
Jacob Underwood scored on a 90-yard kickoff return for the Raiders, while bullish fullback Ashton Block led the rushing attack 71 yards including TDs of 1 and 4 yards.
The Raiders prevailed in the thriller after blowout wins over Fairview, Lewis County and Morgan County to open the season.
“Those first three games allowed us to get a lot of guys experience,” Champlin said. “We played a ton of people tonight.”
West Carter slipped to 1-2.
“We let East get momentum and things started spiraling out of control,” Comets coach Daniel Barker said. “The second and third quarters hurt us, but I can’t fault our kids’ effort.
Cline carried 26 times for 196 yards, thanks to solid blocking and his own athletic ability.
“He’s a workhorse, one of the best we’re going to play,” Adams said. “I have nothing but respect for him.”