BENSON — It was definitely a Johnston County Classic. Visiting Cleveland just managed to get in the last lick.
Isaac Martin carried 25 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including the winner and an insurance two-point conversion with 1:18 to play as the Rams beat rival West Johnson 30-23 in front of a standing-room-only crowd Friday night.
Quarterback Aaron Farmer rushed 12 times for 152 yards, also completing 10 of 19 passes for 121 yards and two scores for the Rams.
Cleveland (2-1) of the new Two Rivers 3A was coming off a 45-44 victory against Greater Neuse River 4A power Garner, arguably the biggest win in the history of the three-year-old program.
“Jimmy Williams and I are really good friends, and they’ve got a great coaching staff,” Rams coach Marc Morris said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. Our offense executed there at the end and we were fortunate to get a win.”
West (2-1), a member of the GNRC, had easily defeated Two Rivers 3A members Smithfield-Selma and South Johnston in its first two games.
Sophomore quarterback Jarvin Holder completed 17 of 30 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and ran for another to lead the Wildcats.
“It’s always a rock fight when we play them,” said Jimmy Williams, who is in his first season at the West helm. “Our effort was outstanding. I don’t believe in 110 percent, I believe in 100 percent. We were about two first downs from winning this game tonight, but I can’t question our effort.”
West led 9-7 at halftime.
The Rams scored on their first possession as Martin scooted around the right end from 15 yards out to complete a seven-play, 61-yard drive. Johnson added the conversion with 7:58 left in the first.
West came back later in the period, as Alex Mattes hit a 28-yard field goal at 1:02.
The Wildcats took advantage of a turnover to claim the halftime lead. Nay Fuller recovered a Cleveland fumble at the Rams’ 47, and seven plays later Cameron Williams charged in from three yards out at 6:55. Mattes’ kick was wide and the score remained 9-7.
West took advantage of another miscue to stretch the lead in the third. After Josh Collier recovered a Rams fumble at the Cleveland 37, West needed seven plays before Holder scored on a keeper to the right side at 5:44. Mattes added the kick.
Cleveland trimmed the lead on its next possession, going 80 yards in 10 plays with Farmer hitting Corey Brown in the right rear corner of the end zone from nine yards out at 1:08. Johnson’s conversion made it 16-14.
The Rams took the lead with 9:44 to go on Farmer’s 24-yard pass to Taiquan Dixon to end a five-play, 84-yard march. Martin ran for the conversion to make it 22-16.
“This is a huge win because it’s a community win,” Farmer said. “We had some adversity, but as we say in practice, when something goes wrong, the next play is the most important play.”
West got the advantage again at 6:33, when Mattes’ conversion kick put the Wildcats ahead after Holder’s 6-yard pass to Kasual Cantey to end a seven-play, 42-yard drive.
But when the Rams got the ball for the last time with 2:09 left, they went 81 yards in five plays with Martin going in from 6 yards out and tacking on the two-point conversion run.
“That last touchdown felt pretty good,” Martin said. “We knew West was going to play a great game against us, but we kept fighting until the end.”