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Big plays spark Bears

AHOSKIE – It wasn’t the prettiest pass in the history of football, but the end result made Hertford County happy.

Nursing a narrow 8-3 lead vs. White Oak in Saturday night’s opening round of the NCHSAA 3-A play-offs, HCHS quarterback Petey Boone, under a heavy rush, threw an off-balanced pass into double coverage. The ball seemed to hang in the air forever, but that gave receiver Montario Hunter some added time to cut his route and adjust to the pass. He made the 34-yard grab at the White Oak 18 yardline; the Bears scored two plays later, grabbing a 15-3 halftime lead, and padded that cushion with a trio of third quarter TD’s to advance with a 35-9 win.

HCHS, now 12-0 and seeded second in the eastern bracket of the state Class 3-A play-offs, will face a familiar foe in Friday’s second round action. Western Alamance, seeded seventh, comes to Ahoskie on Friday (Nov. 20). Western Alamance, at 9-3 overall after defeating Washington (21-6) in the first round, has two previous play-off wins vs. Hertford County (37-10 in 2007 and 31-13 in 2005). Both those games were played in Burlington.

But before the Bears could set their sights on a second-round opponent, they had to first take care of business in opening round action. For a while, White Oak, the 15th seed, gave HCHS all they could handle.

Hertford County never trailed, scoring on their second possession of the game thanks to forcing White Oak to punt deep from their own end.

Taking over at the White Oak 42 yardline, the Bears used the hard running of Ron Gatling and Michael Stephenson to score in six plays. Gatling ended that short drive with a three-yard TD run. A bad snap on the extra point attempt forced the holder (Boone) to look to pass. He found Darnell Vaughan wide open in the endzone for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead at the 2:17 mark of the first quarter.

White Oak answered on the game’s next possession, using seven plays, highlighted by a 13-yard pass from Jake Fritter to Mario Major and a 15-yard pass interference flag against the Bears, to drive to the HCHS nine yardline. The drive stalled at that point, forcing a 28-yard field goal by Josh Walter that trimmed the Bears lead to 8-3 with 10:24 left in the second quarter.

That field goal produced the first points against the HCHS defense since Oct. 2 (a 35-7 win vs. Edenton), a string of 20 consecutive scoreless periods.

White Oak was on the move again in the second quarter. Using the “Wildcat” formation, the Vikings were covering real estate thanks to direct snaps to Tremayne McNair and reached the HCHS 43 yardline. But again, the Bears defense, anchored by linebacker Markee White, stiffened and forced a punt.

Two possessions later, the Bears finally re-energized their offense. Starting at their own 34, Boone first connected with Stephenson for a 14-yard pass before the “wounded duck” pass to Hunter for 34 yards. Boone scored two plays later on a two-yard scamper to paydirt and, coupled with Brandon Warren’s PAT, owned its 15-3 halftime lead.

The Bears then poured it on in the third quarter, scoring three times, two of which were set-up by White Oak turnovers.

HCHS took the kick-off to open the second half and set sail on a 75-yard, seven-play drive capped by Aaron Thomas’ 10-yard run and Warren’s PAT. White (28-yard run) and Boone (two carries for 30 total yards) highlighted that march.

Three plays after the ensuing kick-off, Stephenson recovered a White Oak fumble at the Vikings 34. Gatling scored seven plays later on a three-yard run. Warren’s PAT made it a 29-3 with 4:52 left in the third quarter.

Less than two minutes later, the score increased to 35-3 thanks first to Cedric Bland’s interception that set the table for a short 25-yard drive capped by Boone’s three-yard scoring run. The PAT was blocked.

White Oak produced the only points of the fourth quarter when Tamari White scored on a 17-yard run with 4:33 left in the game.

HCHS finished with 339 yards of total offense, 291 of which came on the ground. Gatling led that effort with 21 carries for 143 yards. Stephenson (65 rushing yards), Boone (27) and Thomas (26) added to the rushing attack.

White Oak, who ended their season at 5-7 overall, amassed 153 total yards.