Lee Co. ends Firebirds’ playoff run | The Enterprise
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Lee Co. ends Firebirds’ playoff run

Posted on November 13, 2021

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Sammy Gandy, shown here fighting through contact in Southern Nash's Oct. 22 showdown with Northern Nash, led the Firebirds with 181 yards and three touchdowns in Friday's 42-24 road loss to Lee County.

Sheldon Vick | Enterprise file photo

Sammy Gandy, shown here fighting through contact in Southern Nash's Oct. 22 showdown with Northern Nash, led the Firebirds with 181 yards and three touchdowns in Friday's 42-24 road loss to Lee County.

SANFORD — Within a short span of game time during the second half of Friday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A second-round playoff game, Southern Nash saw its season get snatched away.

Lee County used two interceptions, one a pick-6, to score 14 points and pull away to a 42-24 win.

“It’s like I told these guys earlier this season, I didn’t know who would beat us (in the playoffs) but I knew how we would get beat with turnovers, defensive big plays and penalties,” said Firebirds first-year head coach Brian Batchelor.

Lee County (9-3), the No. 5 seed in the 3-A East and the top 3-A team in the 3-A/4-A Sandhills Conference, will host No. 13 Jacksonville in the third round Friday. The No. 12 Firebirds, second from the 2-A/3-A Big East Conference, wrapped up 9-2.

Southern Nash trailed 14-6 at halftime, but an interception on its first possession of the third quarter proved to be a costly one. B.J. Brown darted 65 yards for a touchdown after the Yellow Jackets assumed possession to push their lead to 21-6.

Then, after the teams traded TDs, Kenyon Palmer, who already had a pair of receiving touchdowns, picked off Southern Nash quarterback Brock Alford’s pass and returned it 75 yards for the death blow.

“That was the ball game,” said Batchelor.

Southern Nash, which was averaging 8.6 yards per rush entering the game, was held to less than half that Friday. The Firebirds amassed 246 yards on 60 carries. Senior Sammy Gandy led Southern Nash with 181 yards and 3 TDs while classmate Jackson Vick added 66 yards and a TD on the ground.

“In the first half, offensively, I don’t know what it was, but we just weren’t on,” Batchelor said.

Palmer hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass from Will Patterson in the first quarter and Kennedy Hernandez kicked the first of his six PATs. But Southern Nash responded with a scoring drive that culminated in Vick’s 3-yard run a little more than a minute into the second quarter.

Palmer’s 18-yard TD reception 96 seconds before halftime put Lee County up eight at the break.

After Brown’s big scoring run, Gandy answered with a 43-yard romp to the end zone to narrow the Lee County lead to 21-12 with  9:11 to go in the third quarter.

But then Palmer’s pick-6 put the Firebirds in an even deeper hole. Gandy’s 58-yard TD dash mitigated that damage somewhat but the Yellow Jackets had one more scoring drive to finish off the Firebirds.

A lot has happened since Southern Nash left the field at Carter-Finley Stadium after losing the state 3-A championship game to Charlotte Catholic nearly two years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic turned the 2020 fall season into a shortened 2021 season, which proved to be the last for longtime head coach Brian Foster.

Batchelor took over in June and, despite an agonizing 29-28 overtime loss to Northern Nash for the Big East championship and Friday’s elimination, guided the Firebirds to yet another outstanding season.

“Well, that’s one thing for sure — it’s over,” Batchelor said. “But overall,  I was proud of our guys. That’s a big deal to have somebody like Brian there for so long and then to change.”

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