CHARLOTTE, N.C. --Back in July, Charlotte Country Day lost a friend when longtime volunteer Scott Benson died of a sudden heart attack at 54.
Benson’s three kids attended the school and for years, he had been the school’s honorary director of football operations, popular for running up and down the sidelines getting action photos each week. The team dedicated the season to Benson’s memory and Friday night, the Bucs got a huge victory to help ensure that season will be memorable.
Country Day upset public school state championship favorite Charlotte Catholic 31-28. Catholic (2-1) is No. 5 in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll and won its first two games via blowout.
And to do it, Country Day (2-0) had to rally from a 21-7 deficit on Catholic’s home field, in front of an overflow crowd in a game that honored U.S. veterans and featured a pregame flyover and Carolina Panther coach Ron Rivera helping with the pregame coin toss ceremony.
Charlotte Country Day (2-0) had lost the past two games against Catholic but has now won five of the past seven. The Bucs lead the overall series 27-25.
“It means so much,” said Country Day quarterback Michael Radford, a Wake Forest recruit. “It means so much to do it for Mr. Benson because we all loved him.”
For awhile, it looked like Country Day was going to get blown out, falling victim to Catholic’s running game the same way that Providence and South Meck did the previous two weeks.
The Bucs got a 64-yard pass on the game’s third play and stung Catholic with a Radford touchdown pass on the fifth play. But the Cougars scored 21 straight points as Elijah Hood (18 carries, 92 yards, 3 TDs) got rolling. He sparked the scoring assault with a 6-yard run where he simply floored a Bucs defender at the goal line.
Hood added another 1-yard score on his team’s next possession and Catholic’s Tafon Mainsah stuck on an electric 86-yard punt return for another score after the Cougars defense shut down Country Day.
With the crowd going nuts and ringing cowbells, Country Day didn’t panic.
“I knew we could move the ball,” Country Day coach Bob Witman said. “We knew that. I knew we would come back. We prepared for this for weeks, and we knew we had some things that would work.”
Country Day scored on its next two possessions – a 47-yard Radford run and a 21-yard Radford pass to Akanimo Eyo – to tie the game at 21 before halftime.
“All the seniors on the team stepped up right there,” said Radford who finished with 111 yards rushing and a score plus 161 yards passing and three touchdowns. “We did everything we could.”
Hood started the second half with another touchdown on another quick drive, but Country Day dominated time of possession in the second half, keeping Hood off the field. He got only three carries for 20 yards in the second half.
Country Day tied the game in the third quarter on a short Radford scoring pass to Jimmy Kleiches late in the third quarter. And in the fourth, the Bucs won the game by getting a break.
A punt hit a Catholic player inadvertently and Country Day recovered at the Catholic 28, setting up a game-winning 30-yard field goal from Alex Gakenheimer to win the game with 2:50 to play.
Catholic got two more possessions, but couldn’t get in scoring range.
Hugging his friends, Radford said he knew the reason for that – and for the win.
“That punt,” he said, “it was a great play. It was really big and it was really lucky, man. That was Mr. Benson just looking out for us tonight.”