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Falcons claim league title

AHOSKIE – Domination.

In a word, that’s the end result of what unfolded here last night (Friday) where the “backyard bragging rights” belonged to Bertie as the Falcons totally dominated Hertford County as the guests hammered out a 34-3 win.

For Tony Hoggard and his Falcons, it marked the end of a perfect league season (6-0; 8-3 overall) as Bertie captured its first Northeastern Coastal Conference crown since 2002. It also snapped a three-game losing streak against the Bears.

“It feels great to win this championship,” Hoggard said after the game. “It’s been about keeping the faith and keeping these guys together and believing in each other.”

As he had preached to his players during the week leading up to this annual grudge match, Hoggard wanted his club to win the title outright as a loss would have left the two clubs tied for the league crown.

“I don’t like sharing (the conference championship) and I have it all to myself,” Hoggard noted. “You can call me selfish, but we’re conference champions.”

Other than a brief HCHS offensive spurt to start the game, Bertie left little doubt to who the best team was on this particular night. The Falcons rolled-up 314 yards of total offense (a balanced attack that featured 167 passing and 147 rushing) while limiting the Bears to a season-low 70 total yards.

Bertie senior quarterback Desmond (“DD”) Williams sparkled in his final regular season contest, passing for 167 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two others (67 rushing yards on 14 carries).

“Hertford County was too big for us just to drive it down their throat,” Hoggard stressed. “We had to spread it out and make them cover the whole field and play us honest. That kind of worked in our favor.”

Defensively, Bertie surrendered yardage through an eye-dropper. They kept the Bears out of the endzone for the first time in years. Travis Bond (4 solo tackles, including a sack) and three stops each from Dominique Cherry and Khirye Jones spearheaded that defensive effort. La’Manuel Murphy had a key fumble recovery that halted a first-half drive by the Bears.

Not only did the Bears fail to strike paydirt, the times they did have a decent drive underway they killed themselves with mistakes. HCHS finished the game with 63 yards in penalties, including four unsportsmanlike flags.

HCHS did manage a quick 3-0 lead. Thanks to Michael Stephenson’s 59 yard return of the game’s opening kick-off, the Bears set-up shop at the Bertie 24 yardline. Four plays later, Richard Burns split the uprights with a 36-yard field goal.

The Falcons came right back with a big play of their own when Williams scampered 13 yards which was followed by an unsportsmanlike flag against the Bears. That pushed the ball to the seven. One play and one penalty later, senior Kevin Swain scored from 12 yards out to put Bertie on top to stay. Williams ran in the conversion for an 8-3 lead with 8:14 left in the first quarter.

Bertie then put the game on-ice in the second quarter by scoring three touchdowns. Williams had a hand in all three of those scores, sandwiching a pair of TD passes (both to Darius Wesson covering 13 and 43 yards) around his 10-yard jaunt to the endzone. None of the conversions worked, but Bertie held a commanding 26-3 halftime lead.

The second half was played without fanfare, mostly because of huge crowds on both sides that were stunned by a halftime, on-field skirmish between the bands of both schools.

Bertie did manage to add one final score to their tally when Williams ran a perfect bootleg play and waltzed into the endzone from two yards out late in the third quarter. Williams hooked-up with Brandon Brown on the conversion pass to account for the 34-3 finale.

Hertford County (4-2; 8-3) was led by Ron Gatling’s 38 rushing yards on 12 carries. Defensively, Darren Everett and Markee White each had five solo tackles to lead the way.

“They made the plays and they played a whole lot better game than we did,” HCHS skipper Diego Hasty said. “We don’t go into the play-offs on as high a note as I thought we would, but it’s a new season and that’s all we can do.”

The “second season” begins next week for both clubs as the NCHSAA state play-offs get underway Nov. 9. See Tuesday’s edition for complete play-off pairings.

(R-C News-Herald Sports Writer Gene Motley contributed to this story.)