DURHAM – Marvin Tillman picked off a pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown, lifting Southern Durham to a 31-24 win over Orange in a thrilling North Carolina 3AA third-round playoff game Friday night.

Tillman’s key pick came off a pass attempt from Orange backup quarterback Bryse Wilson, who replaced Panthers starter Garrett Cloer late in the contest. Cloer was knocked around by Spartans defenders and couldn’t return to action after one particularly hard hit, possibly suffering a concussion.

Wilson atoned for his error with a touchdown pass to Artrell Stewart in the final minute, but Orange failed to collect its ensuing onside kick attempt. Cameron Johnson jumped on the pigskin and Southern Durham then ran out the clock.

“They have really good athletes who made really big plays,” a disappointed Orange coach Pat Moser told reporters. “Southern is deserving and they are definitely a state contender.”

Orange was as well, suffering just two losses all season — both to Southern Durham — including the regular season finale.

The Panthers showed their toughness throughout this contest, forging a 10-10 lead at intermission on a Cloer to Ky Muller 35 yard touchdown pass play and a Brad Barbee field goal.

The Spartans, who barely had the ball in the second quarter, still got a Jordan Brown 2 yard touchdown run and Leonardo Orozco field goal to keep the contest level.

Orange took a 17-10 lead as Patrick Pettiford snared the limelight with an electric 86 yard kick return to open the second half, which he followed with a 5 yard scoring run.

Southern Durham began to pull away later in the third quarter, however, on touchdowns by William Cameron and Brown.

Tillman’s heroics made it 31-17 before the Panthers fought back with the final score.