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The scant seconds must have seemed like an eternity as two officials huddled in the left corner of the end zone.
But the Hunt High varsiy football team got the call.
The officials signaled a touchdown on a sensational catch by 6-foot-3 sophomore Davon Jones while surrounded by two defenders and a bend-but-didn’t break defense made the score stand up for a nail-biting 15-12 Hunt victory against winless East Wake in Hunt’s Warrior Stadium on Friday night.
Jones tight-roped the sideline and appeared to have one foot inbounds when he made the catch of the pass from senior Dalton Garwood with 7 minutes, 51 seconds remaining. East Wake defenders frantically gestured that Jones was out-of-bounds.
Understandably, the catch’s validity didn’t concern Hunt players, who celebrated their third win against one loss.
“Of course, Davon is a spectacular receiver,” exclaimed Garwood. “We had to throw to him and give him a shot."
The TD came on fourth down and senior Tiquez Taylor’s two-point conversion run accounted for the final score.
East Wake head coach Mike Murray, who grew up in Wilson, lamented another tough loss as his Warriors of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference dropped to 0-4. Missing six starters, Murray traveled to Wilson with just 28 players in uniform.
“My guy upstairs thought (Jones) was out-of-bounds,” Murray declared. “Four or five plays every game can decide the game. We were on the short end of a couple of them. We just couldn’t make plays.”
But East Wake had its chance, driving from its 48-yard line to a first down at Hunt’s 26-yard line on its final possession.
But on third down, Hunt’s 6-foot-1, 240-pound sophomore lineman Christian Nicholson knifed in to sack sophomore East Wake quarterback Deaunti Lucas for a 9-yard loss.
A fourth-down pass fell incomplete. Hunt of the 3-A Big East Conference assumed possession with just under a minute remaining and killed the clock.
“We needed a really big play,” Nicholson commented. “The offense was working hard and we told them we were going to make play — and we made it.
“I guess my instincts took over. I knew they were going to be throwing and (assistant) coach (Allan) Daniell told me to take the B gap. I shot the B gap and made the play.”
First-year head coach Ryan Sulkowski praised his Hunt team for “finding a way to win. An ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”
“We were flat coming out of the gate — and that’s my fault,” he continued “We tried to do too much on offense. In making halftime adjustments, it made sense to go back to basics — to go back to what we knew.”
Sophomore Bryce Council’s fumble recovery set up East Wake’s TD late in the first quarter. The break came after Hunt squelched an East Wake threat with sophomore Tychaun Clay’s interception.
Lucas zipped a 37-yard TD pass to junior Shamar Privette with 26 seconds in the first quarter.
A couple of mild Hunt threats ended via loss of downs. A fumble recovery by R.J. Vick result in East Wake possession at Hunt’s 13-yard line just before halftime. The half ended with an incomplete pass and with East Wake leading 6-0.
Garwood started at quarterback for Hunt the second half and Taylor shifted to running back. Hunt marched to a 7-6 lead its first second-half possession.
Garwood connected to senior Jaden Spruil for 12 yards, to Clay for 14 yards, to Jones for 6 yards and to senior Chris Artis for 11 yards. On fourth down, Taylor fought for a first down by inches at East Wake’s 23-yard line.
“We thought we had them stopped on fourth down,” Murray noted, “but the official moved the football a half-yard.”
On third down, Taylor went up the gut against the East Wake defense and slithered into the end zone from 8 yards out. Senior Dante Gaetano kicked the extra point.
“When you’ve got Tiquez Taylor as a running back, you give him the ball,” Garwood said. “Simple as that.”
East Wake needed just six plays following the kickoff to reclaim the lead at 12-7. Lucas’ 16-yard toss to Privette was the big play and senior Isaiah Spencer trotted into the end zone from 9 yards out with 10:17 left.
Hunt wound up with the football at its 35-yard line when the East Wake kickoff sailed out of bounds and started possession at midfield following a personal foul against East Wake.
Hunt was TD bound behind Taylor and a 13-yard keeper by Garwood.
“We played hard,” Murray remarked. “Three or four plays decide the game when the teams are evenly matched.”
Hunt scrambled to keep East Wake winless but, as Nicholson noted: “Never doubt a team.”