ROME — Leading for most of the game, Mount Paran Christian saw its advantage over Darlington disappear early in the fourth quarter.
However, the Eagles were able to engineer a game-winning drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than 2 minutes to play as they moved past the Tigers 16-13 on Friday at Chris Hunter Stadium.
After winning back-to-back games over higher-seeded opponents after entering the tournament seeded 23rd of 24 teams, Mount Paran (7-4) moved on to the Class A private-school quarterfinals. The Eagles will return to the road to face either St. Francis and Holy Innocents’, who played Saturday in Sandy Springs.
“I’m just so proud of this team,” said Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan, a Darlington graduate and former assistant under longtime Tigers coach Tommy Atha. “We’ve had some lows this year, went through a rough stretch. We knew this was going to be a hard game. We’ve been on the road for the past two weeks. And I love coach Atha and those guys. I hate to see them lose, but I’m just so happy for the team and the coaches, what they’ve been through this year and how they’ve battled back.”
Mount Paran’s game-winning drive almost did not happen, but quarterback Niko Vangarelli was able to guide his team down the field and cap the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to seal the win.
The drive started with an Eagles fumble, which they recovered, and Vangarelli was nearly intercepted by Darlington linebacker Kobe Nadu on the next play.
Vangarelli kept the drive alive when he hit Jackson Manning as he was being flushed out of bounds down the sidelines on a 23-yard reception. After that, it was just a matter of Vangarelli powering his way down the field and into the end zone.
The senior also scored on a 22-yard run in the second quarter to put the Eagles up 6-0.
“I’ve seen it so many times, but that one was special to get in,” Jordan said of Vangarelli’s game-winning touchdown. “We had some tough calls on the kickoff, but we’ve just got to play smarter down the stretch.”
The Princeton commit finished 6-of-12 for 101 passing yards and rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Sebastian Moss finished with four catches for 69 yards for the Eagles.
Vangarelli now has 1,533 passing yards on the season and has rolled up 1,870 yards on the ground.
“He’s a very good player,” Atha said. “He’s a tough kid, makes good decisions, and he made big plays for them.”
Darlington (9-2) took a 13-9 lead on the third play of the fourth quarter when senior running back Kolin Rogers took the ball for five straight plays, eventually scoring on a 2-yard run with 10:59 left to play in the game. The Tigers went for two points, but Rogers’ throw was intercepted in the end zone.
Rogers finished with 100 rushing yards on 18 carries and completed his senior season with 1,427 yards.
Darlington was held scoreless in the first half and saw the Eagles push their lead to 9-0 in the third quarter on a 19-yard field goal by Parker Rostowsky. The Tigers came out strong in the second half, but the early deficit was too much to overcome.
Meanwhile, Mount Paran welcomed the prospects of a busy holiday week.
“It’s just special to still be playing on Thanksgiving,” Jordan said as his players celebrated around him. “My wife couldn’t be here. She’s missed two games, and they’ve been the last two. She’s going to be so mad at me. We’re not going to let her come next week.”