By Reagan Perry | Special Correspondent
Heartbreak city in title game.
2017 NCISAA 2A football title goes to RMA.
Unbelievable effort by both teams.
The APA varsity football team suffered a heart-breaking OT loss to Rocky Mount Academy in the NCISAA 2A state final Friday at Hodges Field, 66-60.
The nervousness of the players and the fans was evident, as both teams fumbled and stumbled their way through opening minutes.
Students and parents alike came to the game, dressed in all white to show support for APA (wearing its white uniforms).
Senior AJ Banker was obviously upset that the game did not end in APA’s favor, but he reached out to the Parrott family via social media and said, “I, among everyone else on the team, played my heart out last night. I am always proud to be a Patriot.”
APA played the title game without senior Holden Killinger, who was missed on the field by his teammates and by Head Coach Matt Beaman, who said, “Killinger is the best player Parrott has ever seen at the middle LB position. If he had been in the game, things might have ended differently.”
“The team has a family like bond and I have grown up with them,” Killinger said, who watched the game from a golf cart on the sidelines. “The game was tough, but we will always be family.”
APA struck first with a rushing TD from senior RB Christian Jones.
Then the Patriot defense forced a turn-over on downs to let senior QB Connor Bright and the offense get back to work.
A few plays later, APA junior RB Shy Thompson ran 67 yards to put the Patriots up, 16-0, at the end of the first quarter.
RMA scored on its first possession of the second quarter to get on the scoreboard.
On APA’s next drive, however, Jones took it to the house again to increase the Patriots’ lead to 24-8.
RMA was quick to strike back and with a TD and two-point conversion. The Eagles’ score made it APA 24, RMA 16.
On Parrott’s next drive, there was a fumble near the 10-yard line and RMA recovered the ball.
RMA did not score off this turnover, thanks to an interception in the end zone by AJ Banker.
And the half ended with APA up, 24-16.
After half-time, Bright connected with senior WR AJ Banker for a 50 yard TD, increasing the Pats’ lead to 32-16.
But RMA wasted no time and quickly scored to bring the game to 32-24.
On its next drive, APA turned the ball over on downs in what was arguably the turning point in the game (of a game that had many turning points).
The Eagles then went 80 yards for a TD and, just like that, the game was tied at 32-all.
RMA was not done, however, and scored a TD to go up 40-32.
After a big defensive stop by the Patriots, Bright and Banker connected again for a TD to tie the game at 40 all.
This was the end of the third quarter (and just enough time for both teams to catch their collective breaths!).
The Eagles, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, struck first at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a TD.
However, their two-point conversion attempt was thwarted by APA’s defense, thought RMA took the lead at 46-40.
On the kick off, Banker ran the ball all the way to the RMA 1y ard line.
Bright finished the drive with a TD and RMA stopped the conversion attempt.
Amazingly, the game was tied at 46.
The Eagles then ran back the kick off for good field position and scored a TD in two plays and took the lead again at 52-46.
On the Patriots’ next drive, the dynamic duo of Bright and Banker connected again for a TD.
The Patriots completed the two-point conversion and took the lead back at 54-52.
But the teams were not finished.
RMA then quickly snatched the lead back at 60-54.
The Patriots then drove down the field for a TD!
The game was tied at 60 after APA failed to punch in the PAT.
RMA tried to score, but they turned the ball over on downs because of APA’s tough defense.
The crowd couldn’t take much more (much less the players!) when Jones ran the kick-off back to the 18 yard line.
Jones was so close, but time expired. The game was now in overtime.
In overtime, RMA got the ball first and scored a touchdown to go up 66-60.
The Patriots got the ball next on the 10-yard line, but the game ended when the Patriots fumbled the ball and RMA recovered it.
And in the spirit of sportsmanhip, both teams shook hands and huddled together in the cool fall night air for the NCISAA All-State awards and championship trophies to be presented.
POINTS AFTER: Connor Bright, Holden Killinger, and AJ Banker made the first team All-NCISAA 1A/2A team for 2017 . . . APAs Alex Urban earned an All-State honorable mention . . . Christian Jones rushed for 179 and 2 TDs for the Patriots . . . Banker had 332 all-purpose yards for the Patriots . . . Bright passed 12-for-20 for 257 yards and 3 TDs . . . Senior Zach Sylvia led the defense with 13 total tackles . . . Junior Gabe Braswell had two sacks . . . Killinger led the Patriots with 140 total tackles (70 solo, 70 assists) despite missing the final game . . . The Patriots have represented APA in the state title game for four consecutive years, winning to championships.