Portland’s first drive during Friday night’s first round Class 5A playoff game in Munford set the tone for the how the game was going to go.
The Panthers didn’t score on that drive, but it was 14 plays long and took 7:15 off the clock.
That keep-away strategy worked for a while, but in the end running back Auvic White had another monster night and the Cougars came up with a second straight dramatic game-winning drive in a 28-27 win.
The Cougars (9-2) move on to round two and will host Henry County (6-5) Friday night with a spot in the state quarterfinals up for grabs. Munford hasn’t been to the quarterfinals in 24 years.
“Hats off to them,” Munford coach Slade Calhoun said. “They had a great game plan, milking the clock, playing keep away. We didn’t look like we wanted to tackle for half the game or three quarters of the game. We let them three- and four-yard us to death.”
For the first time since the season opener, Munford was shut out in the first half. The Cougars trailed 7-0 until White finally got Munford on the board on a 19-yard touchdown run with 9:24 left in the third quarter.
D.J. Vassar recovered the ensuing onside kick and four plays later quarterback Jordan Bell raced down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Munford lead. With 3:51 left in the third quarter White scored again and Munford appeared to be in control with a 21-7 lead.
Turns out they weren’t.
Portland scored twice to tie the score and, after a Munford fumble, scored a go-ahead touchdown with 4:38 left in the game. Portland’s kicker missed the extra point, however, leaving the door open for a game-winning drive.
Using the same formula that was used for last week’s game winning-drive vs. Central, White and Bell ran the ball nine straight plays and Bell’s 13-yard TD with 2:12 left tied the score. Braxton Brown, who kicked the game-winning field goal last week vs. Central, made the extra point to put Munford up 28-27.
Portland (4-7) managed to cross midfield on its next possession, but Hunter Gill came up with a sack and deflected a fourth-down pass to end things.
Calhoun said getting back to basics was the key to Munford’s second half offensive surge.
“It’s just a matter of feeding Auvic White and Jordan Bell,” Calhoun said. “When we don’t try and outsmart ourselves, we move the ball pretty good.”
White finished with 242 yards on 30 carries and Bell added 87 yards on 13 carries.
The game was scoreless until Portland’s Lecyrus House ran 77 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the first half. House broke several long runs and caught a touchdown pass.
“That touchdown was a killer,” Calhoun said.
Munford’s defense settled down eventually and got stops when it had to.
“We knew their game,” Munford linebacker Ben Cerniglia said. “They run the same offense we ran a couple of years ago. They were just playing keep away. We knew we had to fit our gaps and hit ’em in the mouth and create some turnovers to get the ball back and get some momentum … We just had to.”
Munford playoff wins have been rare the last 20-plus years. Since 1997, the year Munford advanced to the state title game, the Cougars own just three playoff wins: Friday’s win, a victory vs. Raleigh-Egypt in 2006 and a win over Clarksville in 2017.