Country Day’s varsity football team came from behind in spectacular fashion to beat Metrolina Christian Academy, 17-14, on its home field and earn the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state championship.

Football champsionship

Trailing 14-10 with under two minutes to play, the Buccaneers were facing a 4th and short deep in Warriors’ territory. Quarterback Russell Tabor '21 completed a pass to Rylan McLaurin '19 in the end zone, but a penalty for offensive holding negated the score and left Country Day facing a 4th and 19 on the Metrolina 22 yard line.

After taking the ensuing snap and saving himself from a stumble, Tabor evaded several Warrior defenders in the backfield and heaved the ball towards the far corner of the end zone. Again it was McLaurin on the receiving end of Tabor’s throw, as the senior made a fingertip grab—which went on to be named MaxPreps’ number-two play of the week nationally—and gave the Bucs a 16-14 advantage. Edward Dellinger '20 added the PAT to increase the lead to 17-14.

The Bucs defense still needed to stave off the Warriors over the final 90 seconds. On two different occasions, the Country Day defenders intercepted Metrolina passes, only to have the catches reversed by pass interference calls. After an offensive pass interference call on the Warriors, Metrolina faced 3rd-and-25 at midfield. Bucs defensive back Thomas Shields '20 intercepted the Warriors’ next pass, allowing Country Day to take possession and  run out the clock.

Prior to the defining sequence, the game was a back-and-forth affair that saw momentum swings throughout. The Warriors grabbed a first quarter lead with a four-yard rushing touchdown. The Bucs answered back quickly, with a, a two-yard touchdown run by Quentin Cooper '20. The score was knotted up at the half, 7-7.

Country Day came out of the break quickly, with Dellinger kicking a 21-yard field goal on the Bucs’ first second-half possession. On the ensuing drive, Metrolina’s Jadus Davis took a short pass and broke out into space, sprinting 67 yards to the end zone and giving the Warriors a 14-10 lead. From there, the defenses took over, with no points being scored the rest of the third quarter or the first 13 minutes of the final frame. That set the table for the game’s dramatic finish.

Country Day entered the NCISAA Division II playoffs as the fourth seed and defeated fifth seed Covenant Day in the state quarterfinals, 45-5. In the semifinal round the Bucs avenged a regular-season defeat to Charlotte Latin, defeating the Hawks, 24-14, behind a dominant defensive showing. Overall in the state playoffs, the Country Day defense held opponents to 33 points, and it forced 12 turnovers and scored two defensive touchdowns.

Six members of the team were named All-State: McLaurin (first-team, defensive back), Dellinger (second team, kicker), David Lange '19 (second team, offensive lineman), Jack Stajos '20 (second-team, defensive lineman), Cooper (honorable mention, running back), and Triston Miller '19 (honorable mention, offensive lineman).

The Bucs finished the season with an overall record of 8-5. The state title was Country Day’s first since 2010, when current Bucs head coach Drew Witman’s father, Bob Witman, was still at the helm. The younger Witman, in his fourth year coaching his alma mater, praised the efforts and competitive spirit of his team.

“I am extremely proud of our team for their commitment to each other every day,” Witman said. “The game of football is played with such tenacity and passion; to be a great team, there must be constant accountability to one another. Our team displayed a sense of urgency to get better all year long and it showed in the end capping off a three-game stretch in the playoffs, winning a state championship. We pride ourselves on leadership, commitment, relentless effort, and love.  Each one of those four qualities was evident on the field on Friday. I am very thankful to have coached such a great group of young men.”