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To the dismay of few among a crowd of some 1,500 on a football-favorable Friday night in the Beddingfield High stadium, kicking situations were critical in settling the renewal of the Beddingfield-Hunt varsity football rivalry.
The rivalry is marked by a history of such. But in Friday night’s 44th clash, Beddingfield was not the victim.
Senior place-kicker Bryan Rico was accurate on all three of his extra-point kicks, which proved to be the margin of the Bruins’ entertaining 21-18 triumph.
Beddingfield also blocked a Warriors field-goal attempt and sealed the victory with the game’s only punt — a 31-yard boot by junior Rio Montes with less than 30 seconds remaining.
The 11th victory in the rivalry boosted the Bruins of first-year head coach Carl Smith to 4-1, while Hunt, directed by first-year head coach Ryan Sulkowski, dropped to 3-2.
Unleashing a punishing running game with senior Jalil Hutcherson and sophomore Raekwon Batts each cranking out more than 100 yards, the Bruins struck for touchdowns their first two possessions and never trailed.
Hunt of the 3-A Big East Conference trailed as much as 21-6 before fighting for a pair of TDs in the last eight minutes. However, the Warriors went 0 for 3 on conversion attempts.
The outcome enabled Beddingfield of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference to celebrate the Wilson County championship for the first time since 2009 and jubilantly hoist The Wilson Times-sponsored trophy on one of the earliest dates (Bruins clinched on Sept. 18 in 2009) since the county championship’s inception.
The Bruins reign by conquering Hunt after pulling out a 26-24 victory at Fike the previous week. Beddingfield claimed its second official county title and defeated both archrivals the same season for just the third time.
“I feel good,” expressed Smith. “I am very proud of my guys. They fought hard and prepared well for Hunt. Hunt is a great team and it was a great game. I am very proud of them to grind it out.”
Commented Sulkowski of his introduction to the county rivalry:
“It was very close to what I expected. The crowd was electric; our crowd was very supportive. It was a good atmosphere and we need to get used to playing in that type of atmosphere when we get into conference.
“I want (Hunt players) to hurt tonight and focus tomorrow. We don’t want that feeling next week. We thought it would be a very physical game — and it was.”
Sulkowski described attempting to tackle Beddingfield’s Batts like “a cheetah trying to catch a gazelle.”
The first half saw Hunt’s defense struggle to contain the Bruins’ offensive line of junior Cedric Pope, senior Daryll Malachi, sophomore Amantae Jones, junior Arnold Pender, junior Zachary Jones, senior Devin Woodard and senior Donyel Sauls.
The front seven enabled Hutcherson to thunder for 177 yards on 20 rushes and Batts to pound for 121 yards on 24 totes. The Bruins piled up 315 rushing yards.
Just two plays from scrimmage, Beddingfield owned a 7-0 lead. Hutcherson zipped 72 yards and Rico booted the extra point.
With slightly over three minutes left in the opening quarter, the cushion expanded to 14-0. Batts slammed the final yard and Rico again knocked through the extra point.
Hunt’s first possession saw an illegal procedure infraction nullify senior Chris Artis’ TD jaunt. The Warriors finally attempted a field goal from 32 yards out that was blocked by Beddingfield’s Malachi.
The Warriors also threatened their second possession, but the Bruins’ Travon Newsome, a senior, broke up a fourth-down pass.
The momentum shifted midway the second quarter when junior Jahquel Jefferson and senior Zion Barnes combined for a Hunt fourth-down stop at midfield.
The Warriors plowed to their first TD, with sophomore C.J. Joyner darting the last 10 yards. But the PAT kick attempt missed. In the closing seconds, Hunt could not capitalize upon senior Robert Best’s interception.
Hunt received the second-half kickoff and marched to Beddingfield’s 12-yard line before Bruins senior Jahquez Artis picked off senior Dalton Garwood’s pass.
The Bruins responded with a time-chewing, 87-yard drive that featured just the second and third completed passes of 2019. Junior quarterback Garritt Harris connected to Sauls for 10 yards and to junior Corey Kent for 17 yards. Hutcherson spun into the end zone from 3 yards out. Rico nailed the PAT.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rico remarked of the importance of his extra points. “Being a place-kicker, the guys make you feel like you’re an important part of the team. We’re like family. This is something I love to do.
“The guys were getting it in there (scoring) and I knew I had to do my part. The extra points made the difference. I was glad to be able to finish the hard work the boys started.”
Hunt wasn’t through.
The Warriors trudged 60 yards in 11 plays with Joyner the workhorse. Joyner, who amassed 126 yards on 15 rushes, found the end zone from 4 yards out. But the conversion run failed.
Hunt reclaimed possession after a fourth-down stop by sophomore Christian Nicholson.
Reserve junior quarterback A.J. Kovach hooked up with Chris Artis on a 54-yard bomb. Senior quarterback Tiquez Taylor, the starter, scored on a 2-yard keeper. But the PAT pass fell incomplete with 1:49 remaining.
Beddingfield’s Jah’quez Artis pounced on the onside kickoff and the county dandy ended on Harris’ interception.
“It’s sad we got a loss,” said Joyner, who was not available in the closing minutes because of an ankle injury. “But I’m glad my boys did what they could. They all did their part; we can’t blame the loss on anyone.
“We were surprised. We thought we would come in and win; we had so much confidence. The start of the game messed us up. It was a good game — I liked that game. I would love to play it again.”
As Smith declared: “The rivalry was in full effect.”