Big plays propel Hilltoppers past East
Like many rivalry games, momentum can change the complextion of the matchup at the drop of a hat. That's what happened Friday night at The Palace in Rutherfordton on senior night for the R-S Central Hilltoppers.
R-S Central came into the night riding a three-game winning streak and took the field with a backdrop of police lights and fog machines, but East Rutherford dominated the first 22 minutes of the game.
However, R-S Central used two big scoring plays late in the second half to steal the momentum en route to a 20-17 win earning them the right to be called County Champions and most likely a spot in the state playoffs.
"This is big for our seniors," R-S Central head coach Mike Cheek said. "We have 19 seniors that busted thier tail for four years and this is a big night for them."
Jay'len Hollis' 68-yard strike to Malik Whetstone with two minute left in the first half and Matt Atchley's 84-yard kickoff return as the half expired re-ignited the Hilltopper faithful and carried them through the second half.
"We gave them the game. They didn't win that game, we gave it to them," East Rutherford head coach Clint Bland said after the loss. "It's very disappionting on our half."
Aside from the 68-yard strike, R-S Central (5-4, 4-3 SMAC) amassed just 7 yards of offense in the first half and finished with just 173 yards of total offense on the night.
"In the first half I thought we played about as bad as we could play and East Rutherford played real well," Cheek said.
R-S Central took the opening kick but was forced to punt after just three plays.
East Rutherford (3-7, 3-4 SMAC) took over and melted the first quarter clock with six first downs before fullback Tray Greene capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge on fourth and goal with just 1:40 left in the opening frame.
The Hilltopper offensive struggles continued into the second half another three-and-out and an Atchley fumble at midfield.
East Rutherford doubled its lead with 3:10 left before the half after sophomore running back Kameron Garrison carried the offense inside of the Hilltoppers 5.
A facemask penalty set the Cavaliers up at the 1-yard line and Hollifield sneaked it in from there. After a Harrison Wilkerson PAT the Cavaliers were in full control with a 14-0 lead.
However, the stunned R-S Central crowd was awakened when Hollis found a streaking Whitestone down the near sideline for a 68-yard touchdown strike. Ryan Hill’s PAT cut the Cavalier lead to 14-7 with 2:21 left before the break.
East Rutherford responed on the ensuing kickoff as Calvin Camp took the return to the R-S Central 42.
After a couple first downs, Wilkerson booted a 24-yard field goal with three seconds left on the clock to seemingly give the Cavaliers the momentum along with a 17-7 lead.
Atchley, however, only needed three seconds to swing the momentum back to the home team when he took the kickoff 84 yards through the East Rutherford coverage team into the end zone for 6 points. Hill’s PAT sent the Hilltoppers into the locker room down just 17-14 at the half.
"That was big for us," Cheek said. "Matt's run really changed the momentum of the game."
The kickoff before halftime is not what we wanted," Bland said. "We wanted a squib kick on the ground. We didn't get that but still should have made the tackle."
East opened the second half with the ball but came up empty-handed after Wiklerson missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
R-S Central took over at the 20 and put together its only real drive of the night and ended it with a 4-yard touchdown plunge by Desmond Whitesides. The PAT was no good, but the Hilltoppers took their first lead of the game, 20-17, with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
Wilkerson had a chance to tie the score with just over three minutes left in the game with a 35-yard field goal, but the kick drifted wide-right and the Hilltoppers held onto their slim 3-point lead.
Atchley made his next important play of the night late in the fourth quarter, not as a runner, but as the punter.
The Hilltoppers failed to earn a first down on their ensuing drive forcing Atchley to punt the ball away with 1:20 left in the game.
Atchley, who struggled all night with his punting, boomed a kick over the returner's head and the Hilltoppers coverage team pinned the Cavaliers at their own 34.
On the first play of the East Rutherford drive, Holliefield was flushed right before he threw up a pass that was picked off by R-S Central's Devin Adell.
R-S Central took the field and killed the clock to ice the victory.
R-S Central travels to Burns next week to face Burns while East Rutherford returns home to play Chase.
"We've been frustrated a lot losing some close games. This is a big win for us and the kids are going to enjoy it," Cheek said. "Against Burns we have nothing to lose. We'll just go out there and play the best we can play."
"We'll be alright," Bland said. "We have another county game so we'll just go out and play hard." —————————————————————————————
High school football
Friday, Nov. 1, 2013
at R-S Central High School
R-S CENTRAL 20, E. RUTHERFORD 17
R-S Central^0 14 6 0 - 20
E. Rutherford^7 10 0 0 - 17
ER – Tray Greene 1 run. (Harrison Wilkerson kick) 1:40
ER – Austin Hollifield 1 run. (Wilkerson kick) 3:10
RSC – Malik Whetstone 68 pass from Jay’len Hollis. (Ryan Hill kick) 2:21
ER – Wilkerson 24 field goal. 0:03
RSC – Matt Atchley 84 kickoff return. (Hill kick) 0:00
RSC — Desmond Whitesides 4 run. (Kick failed)
RUSHING—R-S Central; Matt Atchley 11-28, Desmond Whitesides 8-25, Rashaun Whitesides 6-19, Juwan Watkins 2-6, Jay'len Hollis 6-(-3). East Rutherford; Kameron Garrison 20-102, Kaleb McEntyre 7-28, Austin Hollifield 7-28, DJ Miller 7-10, Tray Greene 1-1, Rashead Hamilton 1-0.
PASSING— R-S Central; Hollis 3-7-98-0. East Rutherford; Austin Hollifield 14-22-116-1.
RECEIVING— R-S Central; Malik Whetstone 1-68, Aaron Logan 1-19, Zach Kuhl 1-11. East Rutherford; Will Hollifield 6-51, Griffin Stamey 6-33, McEntyre 2-23, Desmond Stone 1-9.