On fourth down, Daniel Hill took a handoff and sprinted past defenders 45 yards into the end zone with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter to give Meridian its first lead of the night.
On Northeast Lauderdale’s ensuing possession, Jaheim Smith, playing quarterback in place of the injured Chris Hardy, took a shotgun snap on 4th-and-20 from his own 49-yard line, and tried to get off a pass when Wildcat defensive lineman Javeen Collins busted through the line and swatted Smith’s throwing arm, causing the ball to land short with 1:08 remaining to seal an 18-point, second half comeback for Meridian, 22-18.
“I’m pretty fired up,” Meridian head coach John Douglass said afterward. “Part of being a good football team is the will to win and the will to keep fighting, and never giving up. They obviously had that.”
Playing each other for the first time in 11 years, The Trojans had both sides of the ball working in the first half. Smith, the starting running back, scored all three touchdowns with runs of 15 yards and one yard, and a 67-yard reception on a pass from Hardy. The Trojans had 118 rushing yards to go along with an 18-0 halftime lead.
“We were fresh,” Northeast head coach Glen Sanders said. “We knew how they were going to line up and we knew what they were going to do, and we had some plays we felt like were going to be good for us, and they were.”
Meridian (1-0) struggled to move the ball for the first 24 minutes, getting as close as the 19-yard line before Jonathan Vaughn’s third down pass was intercepted by Corey Moss. Vaughn was 1-for-8 for 10 yards with two picks in the first half.
“I said, ‘don’t worry about the score,’” Douglass said he told his team at halftime. “‘Come out and try to be a better football team. Let’s see how good we are tonight, and maybe we’ll have enough to win tonight.’”
The Wildcats got on the board with under five minutes to play in the third when Vaughn connected with Martavious Earl on a screen pass for a 35-yard score. After the Trojans missed a 19-yard field goal after being stopped on third down at the 5-yard line, they capped off a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 2-yard run from KeXavius Burton to cut their deficit to 18-14 early in the final quarter.
“A lot of holes opened up on offense. My offense did a great job blocking, and it worked out,” Burton said. “We were telling each other we know they’re not better. And we’d been working all week for this.”
Hill’s run to pull ahead aided a 215-yard second half for Meridian after earning only 90 in the first. Hill finished with 99 yards on seven carries, and Burton ran for 75 on 14 carries.
“A couple of times we shot ourselves in the foot,” Douglass said of the first half. “We just settled down, and didn’t call but three or four different plays in the whole second half other than a few wrinkles we threw at them.”
Smith finished with 77 yards on the ground on 10 carries for Northeast (0-1). Michael McClinton had 57 rushing yards on 17 carries. The Trojans had 101 yards on offense in the second half.
“We got a little winded. We had some guys start getting banged up after the first half, and we just never could get into a rhythm and a groove offensively,” Sanders said. “We were playing a ton of people both ways and it was really tough to maintain intensity in the second half.”
Douglass earned his first victory as head coach of Meridian. As the coach for Northeast last season, he said he wishes the best for the Trojans moving forward.
“(Sanders) knows how I feel about him, all those kids know how I feel about them and I hope they win every football game from here on out,” he said.