Yellow Jackets keep the Brick, 23-9
Lee County won its fifth consecutive Brick City Bowl Friday night, but the Yellow Jackets had to fight from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.
Southern Lee took a 9-8 lead with 8:39 left in the game, on Ethan Helsman's 43-yard field goal which glanced off of and over the crossbar. The Yellow Jackets scored two touchdowns in the last 5:35 to win, 23-9.
The Cavaliers (3-8, 2-4) battled the Yellow Jackets (9-2, 5-1) from the outset and the underdog gained the momentum for what became the tightest game by far of Lee County's five-game streak in the county rivalry.
Southern Lee's defense held Lee County without a first down on the first three Jacket possessions of the game and the Cavaliers had the first good chances to get on the board.
Sparked by two completions from Emond Caldwell to his favorite target all season, wide receiver Aaron Blockmon, the Cavs moved from their own 29-yard line as far as the Lee County 30 on their opening possession before stalling and punting. Two more Cavalier possessions in the first half advanced into Jacket territory only for penalties or the Jacket defense surging into the backfield for big losses to derail the Cavs.
The Jackets went to their main playmaker, running back Jerry Pullum who was going against the school he played for last year, to get their first score of the game.
Starting the second quarter with a new series at the Lee County 43, the Jackets got 20 yards on a screen pass from Duane' Bland to Pullum. Pullum picked up 12 yards on a 3rd-and-5 pitch play. The Jackets kept moving with Bland passing to Kahlese Arnold for 11 yards, then Bland keeping the ball for a 5-yard run and a first down at the 11-yard line.
The Jackets kept the ball in Pullum's hands from there. On the fourth straight pile-pushing run plays, Pullum carried in for a touchdown from two yards out. Bubba Wilson ran for the 2-point play, on a trick play from an extra-point formation, to give the Yellow Jackets an 8-0 lead with 6:54 left in the half.
Southern Lee's speedy, athletic defense kept the margin there on the last Lee County drive of the half, then throughout the third quarter.
Chris McLean's interception on a lofted deep pass down the left sideline stopped the first Jacket drive of the second half, giving the Cavs the ball at the Southern Lee 4. A.J. Giles intercepted a Bland pass on the next Lee County possession, setting the Cavs up on their own 35.
Meanwhile, Lee County's defense was keeping the shutout going. Terry Langston's sack on 3rd-and-long ended the ensuing Cavalier drive, followed by Southern Lee forcing a Lee County three-and-out and punt.
Caldwell connected with Blockmon on quick passes for two first downs. Then facing 3rd-and-3, Patrick Bunnell powered ahead for five yards moving into Lee County territory.
On the next snap, the Cavaliers went deep with Caldwell hitting Blockmon sprinting down the middle for a 49-yard touchdown. Lee County stopped a two-point pass attempt leaving an 8-6 Jacket lead with 2:58 left in the third period.
Cavalier linebacker Cullen Boyette recovered a fumble, forced by Justin McKinnon's hit on Bland as he tried to throw, setting the Cavalier offense up in good field position early in the fourth period.
On a 3rd-and-18 play, Jacket safety Pressley Hales intercepted his second pass of the night. Three incomplete passes later, the Jackets punted back to Southern Lee.
The Cavs went back to the air, with Caldwell finding Blockmon, along with wideout Garrett Touchard, for gains. The Cavaliers moved to a 4th-and-3 at the Jacket 26 and, after trying to draw an offsides penalty, then a timeout, the Cavs chose to try a 43-yard field goal.
Ethan Helsman made the 43-yard try, which would've been good from, exactly 43 yards, as it ticked the top of the middle of the crossbar to give the Cavaliers the lead.
Now trailing, the Yellow Jackets went entirely to Pullum. Pullum carried on 10 straight plays on the following drive, going for 50 yards and finally a 5-yard touchdown run with 5:35 left. Bland passed to Pullum for a 2-point conversion.
On the second snap of the ensuing Cavalier possession, Caldwell overthrew Blockmon and Patrick Bethea intercepted the pass. A penalty wiped out his momentary touchdown return but the Jackets kept the ball.
Pullum, on a play from the Cavalier 30, carried to inside the 5 and lost the ball as he was being dragged down. Arnold fell on, and had to fight for, the ball in the end zone and scored the touchdown. Lee County moved ahead 23-9 with 2:54 left.
Pullum finished with 34 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns. For the Jacket defense, defensive end Thomas Ferguson had three tackles for loss while Hampton Thomas and Langston had a sack each.
For the Cavaliers, Caldwell was 13-for-31 passing for 149 yards. Blockmon had nine catches for 113 yards.
The Yellow Jackets finish second in the Cape Fear Valley Conference and will move on to the NCHSAA 3AA State Playoffs. The first-round games and sites will be announced today.