COLUMBIA - North Augusta made it harder than it needed, but the end result was the same as ever.
North Augusta turned two Airport fumbles and a turnover on downs into 21 fourth-quarter points to win 42-21 over the pesky Eagles on the road Friday night.
The victory runs the Yellow Jackets' unbeaten record to 7-0, 3-0 in Region 3-AAAA, the best start since 1962 when North Augusta won its first 10 games in the final season under legendary coach Cally Gault.
"Good teams step it up when things are down," said North Augusta running back Reggie Merriweather, who rushed 44 times for 242 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score from 6 yards with 7:42 remaining.
The game was taking shape as a North Augusta romp in the first half as the Yellow Jackets rolled down the field on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead on an 8-yard Merriweather run and a 44-yard Richie Williams reception on a fake punt.
When Merriweather broke loose up the right sideline for an 87-yard run to the Airport 1 on the next possession, it appeared a blowout was in the making.
But a personal foul penalty 60 yards behind Merriweather nullified most of the gain and Airport's defense stiffened to force a punt. A jailbreak rush smothered Thomas Reynolds' kick, which Melvin Bell scooped up and returned 30 yards for an Eagles touchdown.
After Frayne Abernathy hit Justin Underwood for a 33-yard touchdown with 49 seconds left in the half to make it 21-7, Airport's own offense suddenly came alive.
The Eagles drove 69 yards in just 20 seconds as Josh Carswell completed three straight passes.A 49-yard touchdown from Carswell to Chris Belton, who shed Lafayette Stewart's tackle attempt, made the score 21-14 at halftime.
The punting game bit North Augusta again in the third quarter, as Jordy Allen broke a string of tackles on a 45-yard return to the Yellow Jackets 2. Allen scored on the next play to even the score with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
"When they came back and tied this sucker up in the third quarter, we could have just died there but we didn't," said North Augusta coach Joe Long.
Allen's heroics didn't last long. On the next North Augusta punt, Allen fumbled and Jason Stewart recovered for the Jackets at the Airport 23. Five straight Merriweather rushes later and North Augusta led 28-21.
On the first play of Airport's ensuing possession, running back Chris Burgess fumbled and Robert Johnson recovered at the Airport 15. Five plays later, Martise Quiller scored from 3 yards out.
Quiller added a 23-yard touchdown with 2:08 left to cap the surge.
Merriweather, who took umbrage with an Internet comment that called him "soft," could have posted a 305-yard game if the penalty hadn't nullified 61 yards off his output.
"Stats are a big deal, but winning is a lot bigger than my individual stats," he said.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.
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