‘It just hurts’: Jets fail to fend off Mustangs’ fiery 2nd-half comeback

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SILER CITY — Sitting amongst the crowd last Wednesday night was like standing on the brink of a slowly cracking dam.

You knew it was going to burst. It was just a matter of when.

With each blow of the whistle — regardless of the call’s correctness or the team it favored — the decibel levels increased.

The same goes for no-calls, big plays, moderate-sized plays and even cheerleading routines.

When something happened, the crowd reacted. And they were loud.

Once the final buzzer sounded and the North Moore Mustangs (5-5) knocked off the Jordan-Matthews Jets (2-10), 53-48, to complete a 12-point comeback, the Mustangs’ visiting crowd erupted loud enough to shatter even the densest of glasses (and strongest of eardrums), while waving goodbye to the stunned, outraged home crowd.

The two groups — the fans, not the players — had been battling throughout the night, hurling boos at one another’s cheerleaders, clapping loudly at even the smallest positives — as if they were doing it directly in their opponents’ faces — and chanting, screaming and sometimes mocking each other.

Everything about the contest felt like an old-school rivalry game.

The hatred oozing out of the stands, the physicality at every turn, the never-quit attitude stemming from both benches. All of these pieces meshed together in perfect harmony to create the atmosphere of what appeared to be a storied feud between two schools located just 23 miles from one another.

“I don’t know what it is, man,” Rodney Wiley, the Jets’ head coach, said after the loss. “No matter who we play, we’re almost like Duke and Carolina, man, everybody always brings their best game against us. It was a good atmosphere for the fans.”

But this isn’t a rivalry with annual installments, one where the players know each other well and are engaged in heated battles two or three times per year.

Quite the contrary.

Truth be told, you’d have to go back to the first month of the Obama administration to find the last time the Jets and Mustangs faced off prior to this season: Feb. 23, 2009.

Now, 13 years later, J-M and North Moore are league foes once more in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference. And they’re making up for lost time.

Earlier this season, on Dec. 6, the Jets took the half-hour trip to Robbins and eked out a close victory, 54-52, in what was another down-to-the-wire barnburner.

Jets senior Rayshaun Alston downed two free throws with one second left on the clock to seal the win, fending off a fierce fourth-quarter comeback from the Mustangs to give the Jets their first victory of the year.

This time, however, there were no late-game heroics for the white-and-blue.

With 4:50 to play in the fourth quarter, Jets junior Dallas Richardson fought through contact and scored in the paint to give his team a 7-point advantage, 43-36, with J-M having gone on a 9-2 run to start the final period after the Jets had a two-point lead, 34-32, at the end of the third.

From there, North Moore — namely senior Ashton Monroe and freshman Colby Pennington — took over.

The Mustangs drained back-to-back 3-pointers, including one from Monroe, who then stole the ball on the other end, which led to a triple from freshman Colby Pennington on the ensuing possession.

Suddenly, it was 43-42 and the Mustangs were right back on the Jets’ heels.

“Our freshman, Colby, is an amazing, tremendous player that has a lot to learn,” Crystal Leenheer, the Mustangs’ head coach, said after the win. “And I have three senior captains out there and I think they have just figured out that it’s on them … they’re talking to each other and they’re feeding off each other.”

Less than a minute later, Mustangs senior Javory Wall deflected a pass into the hands of senior Logan Ritter, who promptly scored on the other end to give North Moore its first lead of the game, 44-43, with 3:10 to play.

Pennington would score again not long after, followed by a steal and drawn foul by Monroe, who knocked down one of two free throws for a 47-43 advantage with a little over two minutes remaining.

The Jets didn’t score again until the 1:14 mark — a nearly four-minute drought — when senior Colby Daniel hit an and-one jumper from the left elbow to put J-M within four points at 49-45. He missed the free throw, but an offensive rebound by sophomore Kelton Fuquay, followed by a foul and a made free throw, made it a one-possession game with 1:12 left.

But North Moore made three of its six free throws in the final minute to secure the 4-point win, completing the comeback it started in the team’s first matchup with the Jets.

“In the first half, we weren’t playing as a team, we were trying to do stuff on our own, so mainly at halftime, it was about working as a team to come back,” Leenheer said. “And I think our defense kind of fueled that and we finally got it together on offense and worked the ball inside, where we had been saying it needed to go.”

As bad as the blown fourth-quarter lead looked for J-M, the game’s turning point actually came in the third period.

At the halftime break, the Jets held a 12-point lead, 28-16, and appeared to have all of the momentum, but it vanished in a woeful third quarter offensively where they shot just 22% (2-of-9) from the field, coughed up eight turnovers and only scored six points.

“Coming out of halftime, that’s been a problem all year long,” Wiley said. “We came out in the second half today and we turned the ball over three straight times and allowed them to get back in the game. … When we have opportunities to get up on people and actually get some separation, we choose not to.”

For the Jets, who hadn’t played since Jan. 7 due to exams and winter weather, this was their third straight game decided in the final minutes.

They’re 1-2 in those games, including the three-overtime heartbreaker against Seaforth a couple of weeks ago, where they lost, 70-61.

“It’s just disappointing because we play so hard,” Wiley said, “and to get in a game like this and not come out with the win, it just hurts. It hurts.”

With the loss, J-M falls to 2-10 on the season but is still well alive in the conference at 2-3. The Jets will travel to Burlington for a date with the unbeaten Cummings Cavaliers (9-0, 4-0 in conference), who they took a 77-54 beating from on Dec. 17.

That game is being played after the News + Record’s Tuesday press deadline.

“I think we’re a whole lot better than our record indicates, but that’s what everybody looks at,” Wiley said. “My hat goes off to the guys. To come out and play as hard as they did after the hard-fought game at Seaforth … we’re proud of them. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get a win.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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