Black Friday was looking like a dark day indeed at Swain County.
But for the second straight year, the defending NCHSAA 1-AA champions played possum all the way to a regional title on their home field.
Blake Wright ran for a game-high 121 yards as the Maroon Devils overcame an early 21-0 deficit to fight past visiting Monroe, 28-21, at Memorial Stadium.
Payton Parker came up with the defensive play of the game, recovering a Redhawks’ fumble on the Swain County 9-yard line with 1 minutes, 21 seconds to go.
“I did it for my team,” Parker said.
“They’re like my second family. We got down tonight, but we made all the right adjustments. It’s a special night. I know we’re going to play our hearts out next week.”
Both teams scored all their points in a wild second quarter.
Maroon Devils junior Raymius Smith threw for 75 yards and completed touchdown passes to Greg Tisho (49 yards) and Matthew Maennle (10). Maennle tied the Western North Carolina single-season record for receiving touchdowns (22) with that catch and also returned an interception for a score on Friday.
Garrett Lane added 97 rushing yards and a short touchdown run (1 yard).
As a team, Swain County was able to overcome three turnovers (two fumbles, one interception) to advance to the Dec. 1 state championship game against either Southwest Onslow (12-1) or James Kenan (13-0) at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
Friday’s game was eerily similar to 2011 when Swain County spotted another visiting team, West Montgomery, a 28-0 lead in the 1-AA Western Regional championship game. The Maroon Devils came all the way back to win, 37-35.
“(Quitting) just isn’t something in this team,” Swain County coach Neil Blankenship said.
“Just like last year, there wasn’t any panic. I told them beforehand that the team which made the adjustments was going to win tonight and that’s what they did.”
Duke recruit Quay Chambers and the Redhawks (11-4) shot out to a 21-0 lead with 7:08 left until halftime, aided by two early turnovers from the Smoky Mountain Conference champions.
Keenan Rivens recovered a fumble and Jermany Hammonds picked off Smith.
The visitors left the rest to their quarterback, an ACC prospect who came into Friday with 1,263 passing yards and 1,080 rushing yards.
He threw perfect spirals into the hands of Hammonds (14 yards) and Lavonte Baker (25). Julius Stratford got things started with a 12-yard scoring run at the 11:13 mark of the second quarter.
The Maroon Devils (15-0) answered with aplomb.
Maennle’s interception came with just 34.8 seconds to go until halftime. Chambers injured his left shoulder on the play and did not return. He finished with 122 passing yards.
“What can I say? Coming back is fun,” Maennle said with a wide grin.
“I was watching (Chambers) and I was able to anticipate the pass and get it.”
Maennle, who is a senior, entered Friday’s game with a couple individual records within his grasp. He got them both.
Maennle not only tied 2009 Murphy graduate Georgie Kerber for the WNC touchdowns mark, but with two more catches on Friday, matched the school single-season record for receptions (62) held by Jeff Hurley.
Swain County’s 27th consecutive win and 21st straight at home allows the Maroon Devils to tie their single-season record for victories (15).
Swain County was the only WNC football team to play at home on Friday night and the visiting side of Memorial Stadium/Deitz Field was packed more than an hour before kickoff.
The Maroon Devils have the most playoff wins (79) of any NCHSAA program since 1976.
They will be going for their ninth state football championship next week in Raleigh.