YORK – Joe Cibrin and Dylan Stallings played Friday, the heck with their injuries. And every Grafton High football fan is happy they did, because the Clippers' dynamic duo proved to be the difference in an important and dramatic 35-31 win over Lafayette in a Bay Rivers District game on Friday.
Cibrin threw a beautiful pass and tight end Stallings made an even more impressive catch on an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Clippers (7-2, 6-2) the lead with exactly 2 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Less than a minute later, Stallings, who also plays defensive end, fell on a Lafayette fumble to clinch the victory and keep the Clippers playoff hopes alive.
Grafton can clinch the No. 2 seed and a home game in the Region I Division 4 playoffs with a win on Friday against York. Should that happen, Lafayette (6-3, 5-3) – which can clinch its D4 playoff berth win a win on Friday against Jamestown – would return here to Bailey Field to face Grafton on Nov. 20 in the regional semifinals.
Stallings, who played despite sustaining a stress fracture to a foot two weeks ago, made the game-winning touchdown catch despite blanket coverage from the Rams' Brandon Jones. His quick thinking was key on the fourth-and-6 play at the 11, because Grafton, out of timeouts, almost certainly would not have gotten the ball back had they failed to score.
"I was just supposed to run three yards over the middle, but I saw an opening and adjusted my route," he said. "I saw (Jones) with my peripheral vision, so I tucked the ball into my stomach as soon as I got it."
You couldn't have fit a dime between Stallings and Jones, so Cibrin's pass had to be good. He gutted it out just to be in the game at all at that point, having missed the previous two series after reaggrivating the knee injury.
"When Lafayette went ahead (31-28 on Will Capers touchdown run with 5:12 to play), I knew I was going back in," Cibrin said. "I wasn't going to look back on the biggest game of my senior season and not play in that situation.
"I knew if I made a decent enough throw, Dylan would go up and get it. He did and he won the game for us."
Stallings then fell on the fumble when Lafayette quarterback Connor McGinty mishandled the center snap with 1:07 to play in the game. The Rams had driven from their 31 to the Clippers 24 before turning the ball over.
The miscue punctuated an entertaining game dominated by two high quality offenses. The Rams, led by Thomas Smith's seven receptions for 146 yards, netted 406 yards, while Grafton retailiated with 342.
Smith, 6-foot-3, beat great coverage by Marcus Spearman on an early 25-yard touchdown catch on a pass from McGinty. Later in the first half, Smith side-stepped a defender and broke two tackles on a 30-yard touchdown reception.
Grafton's first-half highlights included DeAngelo Harrison's 62-yard touchdown run on a sweep and Cibrin's 30-yard TD pass to Spearman, who sliced through the Rams defense on his way to the end zone as Grafton led 20-17 at halftime.
Smith's acrobatic 36-yard reception set up a 1-yard TD run to give Lafayette a 24-20 third-quarter lead. Spearman's 39-yard touchdown run on a reverse put Grafton back ahead.
McGinty's 37-yard pass to Marcus Paige and a 23-yard run by Jones set up the 9-yard TD run by Capers (106 yards rushing) that gave Lafayette its late lead. But Cibrin and Stallings saved the Clippers' night, and their playoff hopes.
"This is a great win for this program, but neither team should hold their head down," Grafton coach Jared Van Acker said. "It was a great game."
Said Lafayette coach Paul Wheeler, "I told our kids we go into the tenth game with something to play for. That's not bad."
GRAFTON 35, LAFAYETTE 31
Lafayette 10 7 7 7 – 31
Grafton 7 13 8 7 – 35
Laf – Smith 25 pass from McGinty (Vaught kick)
Gra – Harrison 62 run (Rinehart kick)
Laf – Vaught 29 field goal
Gra – Harrison 1 run (Rinehart kick)
Laf – Smith 30 pass from McGinty (Vaught kick)
Gra – Spearman 30 pass from Cibrin (kick blocked)
Laf – McGinty 1 run (Vaught kick)
Graf – Spearman 39 run (Stallings pass from Deaver)
Laf – Capers 9 run (Vaught kick)
Gra – Stallings 11 pass from Cibrin (Rinehart kick)