The End Comes Quickly

Updated: November 11, 2017

From the moment Orange fans entered Auman Stadium Friday night, something felt off.

Maybe it was the sight of Payton Wilson and Rodney Brooks on crutches and Marvante Beasley in street clothes. They were on the sidelines with season-ending injuries in the 1st round of the state playoffs. Together, they had played in seven playoff games for Orange. Now, their high school careers were over.

As they watched, Cape Fear quarterback Justice Galloway-Velazquez anxiously high-fives head coach Jacob Thomas. Galloway-Velazquez showed no ill effects from a broken finger suffered last month, which caused him to miss the Colts’ last three regular-season games in the Patriot Conference.

Injuries had taken away Orange’s best players at the worst possible time. Cape Fear’s best players (leading rusher Zaire Boykin also returned Friday after missing the past month) were back at the best possible time.

And it all added up to the worst possible end of the season for the Panthers.

Cape Fear scored five touchdowns before Orange even had one first down and dominated the Panthers 44-6 in the first round of the 3-AA state playoffs on Friday night.

It was the most lopsided loss for the Panthers since a 42-7 loss to Havelock in the 2012 3A Eastern Regional Final.

The loss ended a five-game winning streak in the opening round of the state playoffs. The last time Orange fell in round 1, Fayetteville Byrd throttled the Panthers 41-12.

“They were just physically stronger than us on the front line on both sides of the ball,” said Orange Coach Van Smith. “That’s where it all starts and that’s where it all ended tonight.”

The first play from scrimmage summarized the night for Orange. After calling a timeout after the opening kickoff, then getting an offside penalty, Galloway-Velazquez had a shotgun snap go over his head. Most quarterbacks would have dived on the ball and swallowed a 15-yard loss. Galloway-Velazquez picked up the ball and threw a strike to a wide open Cody Grunden, who raced across midfield for a 42-yard gain. It was Grunden’s 4th catch of the year.

J’Velus Peterson scored on a 17-yard touchdown run three plays later and the rout was on.

After Orange failed to convert a 3rd-and-1 on its next drive, Galloway-Velazquez ran 20 yards to move the ball into the red zone. Aaron Lewis ran around right end for a six-yard touchdown.

Hunter Pettiford fumbled on the subsequent play from scrimmage, leading to Galloway-Velazquez punching in a touchdown run to make it 21-0.

It became 28-0 when Boykin scored on a 1-yard dive. The most points Orange surrendered in a game this season was 26 against Wilmington Hoggard, and the Vikings had to run up the score in the final ten seconds to do that. Cape Fear scored 28 in the first quarter.

Orange only had two first downs and 50 yard total offense, both season lows. Only Owen Brimmer’s 48 yard fumble recovery for a touchdown kept the Panthers from getting shut out for the first time since August 27, 2010 against Carrboro.

For the 18 seniors on the team who came into 2017 thinking there was unfinished business from last year’s 12-1 season, it was a crushing and despairing end. Defensive end Ryan Sellers hugged free safety Eli Haithcock and linebacker Milton Purcell as the final seconds ticked off the clock to their high school careers.

Between 1993-2007, Orange had no winning season. No conference championships. No playoff births.

The class of Wilson, Sellers, Beasley, Purcell, Haithcock, Noah Rogers and Huss conclude the year with Orange’s sixth consecutive winning season, three conference championships, and played in eight playoff games, victorious in half of them.

Certainly Friday night was the worst case scenario for Orange even before kickoff, when easily the lowest home crowd of the season gathered in sub-50 degree temperatures.

Hopefully, when the 18 players move on in life and think back to sustaining the resurrection of Orange football, they’ll understand it was far from wasted time.

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