Parkland senior Denoris Wardlow made his final regular-season appearance at Deaton-Thompson Stadium a memorable one.
Wardlow intercepted three passes, including a 38-yard return for a touchdown, and the Mustangs hung on to defeat Mount Tabor 6-0 in a Piedmont Triad 3-A Conference thriller that went right down to the final seconds Friday night.
Mount Tabor (6-4, 3-1) seemed poised to take the lead when quarterback Jorden Zertuche swept round the right side for 18 yards and a first down at the 6-yard line with less than a minute remaining in the game. Zertuche’s key pickup came on fourth and 3. Tyress McIntyre went up the middle for a 5-yard gain on the next play and the Spartans needed only a single yard of offense to tie the game.
That’s where it all ended for Mount Tabor. The next play resulted in a fumbled snap from center and a 4-yard loss. The Parkland defense held for the next three plays and took over on downs to effectively end the game.
“What a great effort by our defense, man, just a championship effort by the defense,” said Laymarr Marshall, coach of the Mustangs. “The way we played, it’s only fitting to end the game with a defensive stand like we did.”
Wardlow’s touchdown return came early in the second half when he cut across the middle to make the interception and then raced untouched down the left sideline for the only points of the night. His second interception came late in the second quarter and No. 3 early in the third quarter.
“It was a very emotional, being Senior Night,” Wardlow said. “It was my last chance to beat this team. We hadn’t beaten Mount Tabor in 14 years. We haven’t won a conference championship since ‘04 but we can do it this year.”
When Wardlow was recognized along with the other Mustang seniors before the game, the public address announcer said Wardlow’s most memorable moment in a Parkland uniform came last season in the first round of the playoffs against Asheville High when he returned a pass interception 70 yards for a touchdown.
“This is even better,” Wardlow said.
Marshall said Wardlow’s night almost defies description.
“It was a legendary performance by Denoris Wardlow,” he said. “He comes from legendary football family here in Forsyth County.”
This was not just another football game for Marshall. Not even just another important conference game. After all, Marshall was once the head football coach of the Spartans and his son, Noah, plays for Mount Tabor.
“This was emotional,” he said. “I had a saying ‘I am Mount Tabor’ when I was there. That’s who I was and how I felt. I have a lot of friends and former players on the staff at Mount Tabor and I love those guys and I wish them nothing but the best. But this night is all about the Mustangs.”
Both teams had trouble moving the football, especially in the early going.
Parkland had one first down in the opening quarter and that came on a penalty. Mount Tabor had none.
The Mustangs were able to drive deep into Mount Tabor territory late in the first quarter, mostly with the help of penalties, but turned the ball over on downs and gave the Spartans possession on their own 4-yard line. Seven plays into the drive Wardlow made the interception that gave the Mustangs all the points they needed.
The Mustangs were also plagued by penalties. During one stretch in the third quarter, Parkland was penalized three consecutive plays for offensive holding.
Mount Tabor dominated field position much of the second half, spending much of the final two quarters in Parkland territory. Midway through the fourth quarter the Spartans got down to the Parkland 24-yard line but turned the ball over when Scott Walker recovered a fumble for the Mustangs.
Parkland turned the ball right back over to the Spartans when Jamari Slade made an interception for Mount Tabor but once again the Spartans failed to move the football and were forced to punt.
Parkland 6 Mount Tabor 0
Mount Tabor 0 0 0 0 — 0
Parkland 0 6 0 0 — 6
Parkland — Denoris Wardlow, 38 interception return (pass failed)
Records: Mount Tabor (6-4, 3-1), Parkland (6-3, 3-1)