STEVENSVILLE — Kasey Heath couldn’t remember the last time he ran so fast.
Garrett Griebel didn’t think he would ever run so fast.
Fortunately for Kent Island’s High football team, Heath and Griebel proved to fast enough at the right time. Heath carried 23 times for a game-high 188 yards and two touchdowns, and Griebel made a touchdown-saving tackle Friday night, helping the top-seeded and unbeaten Buccaneers to a 28-12 victory over No. 5 North Caroline in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs at Andy Schipul Stadium.
The state tournament was reseeded after this weekend’s play and the Buccaneers (11-0) will now be the No. 2 seed and host Douglass on Friday in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
“A lot of these boys I’ve coached for a very long time,” Kent Island head coach Damian Ferragamo said. “They’ve got a lot of heart. And coming off the bus they may not scare a lot of people, but we play pretty hard.”
Playing with that “hard” tag on both sides of the ball again was Heath. After Kent Island recovered a Bulldog fumble on the North Caroline 17, Heath found a seam on the right side for a 16-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first quarter. James Gardner drilled the first of his four point-after kicks to give the Bucs a lead they never surrendered at 7-0.
“My o-line was awesome tonight,” Heath said. “The holes were just massive. I trickle my way in there and found a little hole, but I couldn’t do it without them. They’ve got to be really hard and use their heads and force them out of there, and they did a great job tonight.”
North Caroline (6-5) recovered a Heath fumble on its 48 with 3 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Bulldogs quarterback TJ Bunce (6 for 15, 94 yards) completed passes to McCabe Piavis (12 yards), Hunter Walters (8 yards) and Mason McFayden (6 yards) — all for first downs — before McFayden (10 carries, 109 yards) scored on a 5-yard run to draw North Caroline within 7-6. Bunce tried running in the two-point conversion after a bobbled snap, but the was tackled shy of the goal line.
It remained a one-point game until just under 5 minutes left in the first half, when Heath broke through the left side and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown.
“I saw a lot of linemen in front of me so I cut it back right and I saw a tiny opening,” Heath said. “And I don’t know if it was the fullback or another linemen that made one hell of a play on the linebacker, and it just made a complete opening. I think that’s the fastest I’ve run in awhile. I was moving.”
North Caroline head coach James McCormick agreed.
“He’s got more speed than you think,” McCormick said of Heath. “He’s a heckuva ballplayer. He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. He’s one of those kids, you have a couple of him you’re going to be OK.”
The Bulldogs appeared ready with an immediate response on their next play from scrimmage, as McFayden was sprung into the open field with no one in front of him before being hauled down from behind at the Kent Island 18 by Griebel after a 65-yard gain.
“Coach always told us, ‘Try your best. Do everything you can. Job’s never finished,’” Griebel said. “I chased him down and tackled him on like the 15-yard line and then we ended up stopping them. They didn’t score.
“To be honest, no I didn’t,” answered Griebel when asked if he thought he had the speed to track down McFayden. “I’m just an average-speed (player), but then I kicked into like a second notch that I didn’t even know I had. I ran after him, and right when he cut back that’s when I could get my arm around him and I just tackled him.”
Griebel’s play proved huge, as North Caroline picked up three yards on three straight running plays before Bunce threw incomplete on fourth down, giving Kent Island the ball back with 2:33 left in the half.
“It’s just the no give-up,” Ferragamo said of Griebel’s play. “And Garrett’s one of our two-way guys. He’s not out there fresh. That’s just a testament to our defense, Tim Goodrich, our defensive coordinator, that our kids are not going to give up on a play. We’re going to try and run everything down.”
North Caroline again cut into the Bucs’ lead with 8:07 left in the third quarter, as McFayden caught a Bunce pass in the right flat, and worked his way downfield for a 47-yard touchdown play that pulled the Bulldogs within 14-12. Bunce’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
Kent Island extended its lead when a 37-yard run by Heath set up Matt Burnside’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Mason Brockington with 2:25 left in the third quarter. Again Gardner blasted the extra point through for a 21-12 lead.
“The second half I think it was just wearing guys down,” Ferragamo said. “They have a lot of two-way guys, a lot of great football players. But when you have to play every snap it definitely wears on you.
“We have an offensive line that they play offensive line,” Ferragamo continued. “They don’t play defensive line. That’s all they do. Some of those two- and three-yard runs that were real tough ended up being five- and six-yard runs as time goes on. So they do a real good job of just being in there and being violent and nasty in there. And Kasey Heath ran the ball with a mission today.”
Griebel and Heath ripped off gains of 18 and 22 yards, respectively before a pair of facemask penalties against North Caroline pushed the Bucs to the Bulldogs 9. Caroline’s defense stiffened on three straight run plays before Burnside rolled right on fourth down and threw eight yards to Keegan O’Brien who made a diving catch for a touchdown and a 27-12 lead.
““We had a few penalties that didn’t help us,” McCormick said. “We had opportunities to make some plays and we didn’t. And Kent Island made a couple of plays in the second half that we didn’t match, and that’s what it really came down to.
“They’re going to do well in the playoffs,” McCormick said of Kent Island. “I’m super proud of our kids. They played hard. They didn’t leave anything on the bench.”