Local gridiron stars return home|Storybook homecoming for Leathers, Stallions halted by Rattlers

Published 3:17 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

Staff Writer

Storybook homecoming for Leathers, Stallions halted by Rattlers
Staff Writer
Saturday night was set to be a perfect homecoming for former Northside standout Derrick Leathers and the Carolina Stallions at Choppy Wagner Stadium on the campus of Washington High School.
Leathers, a combination wide receiver/quarterback, made a miraculous 24-yard touchdown catch with 30 seconds left to put the Stallions up 15-14 over the Triangle Rattlers.
After a short kick off by the Stallions, the Rattlers received the ball at the Stallions' 43-yard line with 24 seconds left. The Stallions' defense, which had been stout all game, forced the Rattlers into a third and long situation from the 43-yard line.
The Stallions' defensive ends brought the heat on the Rattlers' quarterback, who heaved a hail mary down the near sideline. The ball was snatched out of the air by a Rattlers' receiver for a touchdown with :02 on the clock.
The players and fans were stunned as the Rattlers sideline erupted, but Leathers wasn't all too fazed.
After all, he said, "It's just the preseason."
Leathers said he was more concerned with the overall effort given by his team.
"As long as we keep practicing and working together, we'll be alright," he said.
The game, which pitted the Carolina Stallions, a semi-professional team based in Rocky Mount, against the Triangle Rattlers of Durham, started slow for both sides.
The Stallions won the coin toss and elected to receive. After a return to the 36-yard line by Leathers, former Pam Pack player Donterio Evans fumbled on the first series, but the ball was recovered by the Stallions.
Then came a series of penalties on both squads, started with a late hit by the Rattlers that gave the Stallions a first down.
On third and 23, Washington alum Cedric Cobb caught a pass short of the first down but was popped by the Rattlers for another late hit penalty, which set up a field goal try by the Stallions. The field goal snap was muffed and the Rattlers took over after an eventful first series.
The team continued to trade barbs and penalties until early in the second quarter.
On second and 10 from their own 37-yard line, the Stallions, a traditionally run-heavy offense, caught the Rattlers, and seemingly everyone, off guard when quarterback Bruce Staton aired it out to a Stallions wide receiver for a 63-yard bomb of a touchdown pass.
But the Rattlers would strike back quickly by airing it out themselves.
After taking over at the 50-yard line, the Rattlers connected on a 19-yard pass, and then a 16-yard pass to move them into the red zone. A roughing the passer penalty by the Stallions sealed the deal, as the Rattlers scored on the next play with an 8-yard touchdown pass.
The Rattlers added another touchdown pass to go up 14-7 early in the second half.
Then, the Stallions used some excellent special teams' play to get back in the ball game.
The Stallions' punter booted a kick to the 1-yard line, pinning the Rattlers deep within their territory. After a false start, the ball was moved to the half-yard line. The crowd sensed the momentum shifting, and picked up its home-away-from-home team.
The Stallions defensive line collapsed on the Rattlers' running back, who was gang-tackled for a safety.
The game remained 14-9 in favor of the Rattlers until Leathers' amazing catch.
Leathers is joined on the Stallions by 14 former area players, including: starting offensive tackle Fred Cobb, starting tight end Cedric Cobb, starting running back Phonzie Gibbs, starting tackle Derrick Norfleet, Christian Brooks, Donterio Evans, Brandon Brooks, Mike Tuten, Tony Satchell, James Purvis, Willie Williams, Demerioh Whitehead and Patrick Jones.
Gibbs, who set up Leathers' touchdown catch with two thunderous 22 yard runs to get the Stallions to the Rattlers' 21-yard line, said he was kept up at night thinking about the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family.
"I had the jitter bugs at first, and coach just told me to calm down," said Gibbs, a former star at Washington High School.
Gibbs, 26, said its been a long time since he stepped on the soft sod at Choppy Wagner.
"For me, It's been a dream come true, because its been a while since I played on this field."
The Carolina Stallions return to action when they take to their real home field at Nash Central High School next Saturday against their Colonial Football Alliance foe, the Fayetteville Ruff Ryders, at 6 p.m.