Heartmiles and miles of heart By Cal Bryant 11/09/2006 Does anybody remember Gene Hackman’s line when his club was down during the movie…The Replacements. When asked by a sideline reporter what woul

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 9, 2006

Does anybody remember Gene Hackman’s line when his club was down during the movie…The Replacements.

When asked by a sideline reporter what would it take for his team to overcome a big halftime deficit, Hackman, playing the role of Coach McGinnis, replied…&uot;Heart, miles and miles of heart.&uot;

Coach McGinnis would have been proud if he was in attendance at the Northeast Academy at Word of God state NCISAA semifinal football game on Saturday night in Raleigh.

Personally, I’ve had the pleasure over past 20-plus years of covering prep athletics in North Carolina to witness first hand some great matchups on the gridiron.

I was at the 1986 Eastern State championship game in Ahoskie where the home standing Cougars defeated powerful Whiteville.

I was at the infamous six-overtime thriller in Ahoskie in 1993 where Tarboro defeated Hertford County, 70-69.

I was at Kenan Stadium in 1995 where Bertie High School, a huge underdog against High Point Central in the state Class 3-A championship game, threw-up a stone wall on a critical goal line stand inside the final three minutes and shocked the world with a 38-34 upset.

Last year’s Northampton-West at Southside game for the eastern 1-A title is another that ranks high on my list. The Hurricanes converted two critical 4th downs on their game-winning drive, scoring with under two minutes left to taste a 20-14 victory.

All those games featured players with skill. But more importantly, they all featured players with heart.

I’m adding Saturday’s NEA-WOG game to my list of special games.

Three times on Saturday night, Northeast found themselves down for the &uot;10 count.&uot; Each time they picked themselves up off the frost-covered turf at Ravenscroft School and battled back.

Down 48-24 with 10 minutes to play, the Eagles rode the arm of Drew Pinnix, the legs of Arch Harrell and the hands of Jay Duncan and Josh Jenkins and battled to within 48-46.

At any time, the Eagles could have quit. But not these kids…not this night.

Even when WOG, behind the mega-talented Isiah Tucker who did everything but sell tickets and pop the popcorn, went up 54-46 with about two minutes to play, Northeast refused to fold.

They battled back one more time, scoring on a pass from Pinnix to Duncan followed by Harrell refusing to be stopped on the game-tying two-point conversion as he stretched the ball over the goal line.

To WOG’s credit, they did not quit either, scoring on a hook-and-lateral play as time expired to win the game, 60-54.

Talent won out in the end, but the Northeast players were the real winners. To this old newspaper reporter, they demonstrated one of the key traits it takes to be winners in life….heart, miles and miles of heart.

Congratulations to the Eagles, head coach Colin Sneed and his staff. You made it a season to remember and a game that will forever be etched in my mind as one of the greatest ever played.

While on the subject of prep football, the state public school play-offs begin this week. The Roanoke-Chowan area is blessed to have four teams in the post-season. Bertie, Hertford County, Northampton-East and Northampton-West each has visions of a state championship trophy dancing in their heads.

Of the four, three n Bertie, HCHS and NCHS-West n have a legitimate chance of going deep into the play-offs. I wish I could say the same for my high school alma mater (NCHS-East). The Rams got off to a quick start, winning five of its first six games, but stumbled down the stretch with four consecutive losses to close out the regular season. That left East at 5-5 and facing a first-round road trip to perennial football powerhouse Wallace-Rose Hill this Friday night. I don’t have a good feeling that the Rams will be happy on the way back home.

Meanwhile, coach Diego Hasty’s NCHS-West Hurricanes ran the table this season and finished a perfect 10-0, winning their second straight Tar-Roanoke Conference title in the process.

The Hurricanes are the defending state Class 1-A runners-up, losing to Elkin High School in last year’s championship game.

Despite a perfect 2006 season coupled with last year’s success story, the Hurricanes were not the #1 seed in the 2006 Eastern 1-A bracket. That honor went to Manteo, also unbeaten at 11-0. However, West defeated Manteo in the third round of last year’s state play-offs. Apparently, no consideration was given to 2005; at least no consideration to the Hurricanes. Oddly enough, both three-time defending Class 4-A state champion Greenville Rose and seven-time defending Class 4-AA state champion Charlotte Independence were seeded at the top of their respective brackets for 2006.

State officials say it’s all the luck of the draw. However, no one, at least not us media types, is invited to attend the seeding committee meetings where these tie-breaking procedures are used. I guess what goes on behind closed doors remains behind closed doors.

Anyway….back in the open, look for the Bears, Falcons, Hurricanes and Rams, win or lose, to represent the area well in the state play-offs. Good luck to each team.