Tigers are still champs in my book

Published 3:56 pm Sunday, December 14, 2008

By Staff
Commentary by STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
RALEIGH — The blood soaked bandage covering his arm and the tears streaming down his face said it all.
After a Herculean effort, quarterback Emery Griggs and his Williamston teammates fell short in Saturday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 1-A State Championship Game, losing to top-ranked Mount Airy, 37-14 at North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
The pain and disappointment will likely linger on for weeks. Winning the state title was all the Tigers talked about this season.
However, the boys from Williamston should hold their heads high. Be proud. They’ve had a heck of a run.
There are more than 60 Class 1-A schools across the state. And there are only two that made it this far. That’s something to hang your hat on.
Williamston overcame so much adversity just to get this far.
In late August, the Tigers lost starting wide receiver Scott Spruill to a season-ending leg injury.
Then, three weeks later, Cedric Moody, the Tigers’ third-year starting quarterback suffered a season-ending leg injury as well.
Williamston was forced to move Griggs, who never played quarterback in his life, from fullback to starting signal caller. And they had to move Derek Everett, a two-year starter along the offensive line into the backfield.
With all the changes, the Tigers were left for dead two months ago.
Sitting at 3-5 and coming off a 40-0 loss to rival Plymouth, there were some that pondered: Could Williamston even win the Atlantic Conference?
But the Tigers never quit. They believed they were state title contenders, and they went out and proved it.
The Tigers rattled off three straight wins to finish the regular season and win the Atlantic Conference.
Playing their best football of the season, Williamston cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating Nothside and Northampton-West at home.
Then in the third round, Williamston, the third seed from the East, took out second-seeded Creswell behind five rushing touchdowns from Griggs to set up a showdown with No. 1 seed Jones.
In last week’s East Region title tilt, the Tigers jumped out to a 26-0 lead over the Trojans, only to see their lead disappear in the fourth quarter. Jones went ahead 41-39 in the final five minutes, but the Tigers showed the spirit of a champion. Williamston drove the length of the field, and with 25 seconds left, Cody Spruell booted a 21-yard game-winning field goal. Thanks to 326 rushing yards from Griggs, the Tigers were back in the state championship game for eighth time in school history.
Things started out well for the Tigers in Saturdays NCHSAA Class 1-A State Championship Game, jumping out to a 14-0 lead behind two touchdown passes from Griggs to Kareem Bell. But in the end, the Bears’ stout defense (allowing just five points per game entering the contest) and their potent offense (averaging 54 points per contest on the season) were too much for the Tigers’ to handle, as the Granite Bears rattled off 37 unanswered points.
Through it all though, the Tigers continued to battle.
And while they’ll spend today icing their bruises and wiping away the tears, tomorrow, they’ll be able to look back and smile.
The Tigers didn’t get the chance to hoist the championship trophy they dreamed of, but they’re still champions in my book.
Steve Franklin is a sports writer with the Washington Daily News. He can be reached at 940-4218, or by e-mail at sfranklin@wdnweb.com.