There was every reason for Bryse Wilson to be bitter.
As he walked off the field for the final time as an Orange High football player at Durham County Stadium, Wilson was left with the same solemn feeling he had felt four other times in his career, having come up short against Southern Durham. Perhaps this time was the worst of all. It was certainly the last time, since it was the 2nd round of the 3-AA state playoffs.
Still, as he joined his teammates in the walk up the hill to the team bus for one final ride to Hillsborough, he saw Southern head coach Darius Robinson. The two embraced on the track.
“Go win it again,” said Wilson to Robinson, referring to the 3-AA state championship. Robinson softly nodded.
That’s how the latest chapter of the Southern-Orange rivalry, which has had its contentious moments, ended on Friday night.
It won’t make ESPN because, well, LeBron James probably has a game tomorrow. Or the next day. Plus, Tim Tebow is still breathing.
Still, Southern-Orange on Friday night will go down as one of those local legendary games that folks in the periphery of Clayton Road and Orange High School Road will be talking about for the rest of their lives.
As time passes, that discussion will center around questions that may sound embellished, like a good fishing story.
Was the game winning touchdown pass really thrown by Jordon Brown, who had thrown just two passes the entire year? Did Southern really run a fake punt from its own 28 up 3-0 in the 4th quarter? How did Wilson run for 228 yards against a Southern defensive front that constantly had eight men in the box? How could Orange stay in the game even though they threw one pass through the first three quarters? How did two Orange players carry the ball every play in the first half? And how could they still play linebacker, as well?
No doubt the question that Orange fans spent the weekend asking themselves is how did Southern pull another improbable victory? It seemed like this was the Panthers turn.
Instead, Wilson, Lemaster and the 17 seniors will leave Orange having gone 35-6 over the last three seasons. Five of the six losses came against Southern.
In 2014, the two undefeated teams met for the Big 8 Championship at Auman Stadium. Orange led 23-14 with 3 minutes to play, plus Spartans quarterback Kendall Hinton was carted off the field with a leg injury that had some of his teammates visibly shaken.
Yet Hinton somehow returned and led Southern to two touchdowns in the final 2:48 to give Southern a 27-23 win.
So does Southern have Orange’s number?
“I think we have each other’s number,” said Robinson. “We’ve just been fortunate enough to make more plays than them. It’s always a tough battle. I respect Bryse. I respect all of their players.”
On Friday night, it was Orange who rallied. After quarterback Jalon Green scored on a 9-yard run, Southern led 10-0 with 8:00 remaining. It seemed that Orange’s defense, which had stymied Green like no other team this year, would have its effort go in vain.
However, Wilson’s last high school game didn’t end quietly. He set up two Orange touchdowns in a span of 3:57, with separate runs of 59 and 57 yards. Drew Lemaster gave Orange the lead on a 31-yard carry around left end with 4:10 remaining.
Just as Hinton did before him, Green played the role of Southern hero, nicely. He converted two 3rd-and-10 situations. After Green was sacked by Orange’s Johnny Flynn for a 10-yard loss with 2:16 remaining, Robinson stepped in to call a trick play: the double pass.
“They took away everything we tried to do on the edge,” said Robinson. “At that point in the game, we had to find something to put it in the end zone. We put in those plays every spring just in case.”
They had run it twice all season. It worked against Hillside for a 49-yard touchdown to Jordan Mackins. The other time was against Orange, a harmless incompletion.
On Friday night, the timing was perfect. Orange’s defensive backs had keyed on Brown, holding him to 64 yards. Brown waited until the time was right to find Kaleb Barfield, who hauled it in at the goal line.
Because of that, Southern will spend this week getting ready for Cleveland in the third round of the 3-AA state playoffs. The Spartans still have a chance for its second 3-AA state championship in three years.
Orange will still be asking the same question: how did Southern do it again to us this time? It used to be the answer was: because of Kendall Hinton.
Perhaps the real answer is: because it’s Southern Durham.