The Eastern Wayne players gave it their all, but in the end, Kinston managed to escape with a 27-21 victory in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs on Friday evening.
Kinston (8-3 overall) advances to the second round and will face No. 1 Princeton (10-0), while the Warriors’ fantastic season comes to an end.
“It was a good game, back-and-forth, and we fought. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t go into the overtime like we should have,” Eastern Wayne head coach Leander Oates said.
Late in the first quarter, after the Vikings turned the ball over downs, the Warriors executed a seven-play 46-yard drive that ended with Demontae Robinson’s one-yard touchdown run.
The Eastern Wayne defense did a great job of keeping Kinston’s offense in check throughout the first half, and the Warriors held onto a 7-0 lead at halftime.
“I told the guys ‘the defense is going to set us up,’ and I think our guys flew around,” Oates said. “As you can see, we come hard, and we hit hard, and that’s where the weight room comes in. Plus, we have speed on the field.
“Hats off to my defense.”
On the opening possession of the second half, Dennislyn Swinson broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown run that pushed the Warriors ahead 14-0.
“That was big for us when Swinson got that big touchdown for us,” Oates said.
However, Kinston’s offense started to get going in the second half, and on the ensuing drive, Messiah Semndaia threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Antwon Giggets to cut the Warriors’ lead down to 14-7.
Calvin Holloway then pulled the Vikings to within one point with a 42-yard score late in the third quarter, but the extra point was blocked, so the Warriors still led 14-13.
On their next drive, the Warriors drove down to Kinston’s 20-yard line. However, the drive came to a halt when Tyquez Drake intercepted Trevor Warren’s pass.
Kinston then reeled off a 95-yard 14-play drive that ended with Holloway scoring from 14 yards out, and after a successful two-point conversion, the Vikings led 21-14.
“The playmakers that we were watching on film. Those are the guys that stepped up,” Oates said. “Kinston is athletic, and they were able to maintain and stick with their game plan.
“They stood up to the task.”
The Warriors immediately responded, and Warren threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Albert Brown to tie the game.
The Vikings punted on their next possession, and with 27 seconds left in the game, the Warriors took over at their own 27-yard line.
It looked like the game was headed to overtime, but with 13 seconds left, Warren’s pass was intercepted by Kasim Morgan, who returned it 50 yards for the walk-off pick-six.
“That was just the wrong area to put the ball at, and you know, we probably should’ve ran the ball and go into overtime and see where our guys measure up,” Oates said. “It’s not going to be on that kid. It’s a decision that’s led by the coaches, so as the head coach, I’ll take that.”
Even though Eastern Wayne lost the game, the future looks bright for the Warriors, who finished with a winning season for the first time since 2017 and won at least eight games for the first time since 2014.
“The seniors don’t realize that they left a mark for our guys to step up as a program,” Oates said. “Based on where we’re coming from, winless seasons, and then one season where we were in the .500 area. This season set the tone for the future.
“Fortunately for us, we have a lot of guys coming back.”