Eagles dominate in homecoming victory
W.S. Neal came out strong, and dominated the Calhoun Tigers in front of a packed homecoming crowd Friday night. The Eagles won the toss, and team captains, carrying black jersey #5 in memory of former teammate Trey Taylor, elected to receive the ball first.
Homecoming is a time where you see a lot of familiar faces, but on the field Friday night, fans saw a lot of new faces. Head Coach Doug Hoehn said, “I’m proud of the young kids tonight. They played ninety percent of the game. They played hard. I’m proud of all our kids. They played with a lot of class tonight. Calhoun, they’re better team than they were last year. Their kids played hard, so I want to congratulate them on their effort.
“The varsity kids played well. I think they played the first two series. We talked about, going into the week, that we wanted to give them a couple of series, keep them sharp, and then we were going to get the young kids in the game. I’m just so proud of them and how they encouraged the young kids and stayed in the game and supported them.”
On the opening play of the game, junior JT Gantt ran 49 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles faked a kick, and senior Dakota Graves ran in a two-point conversion, putting Neal up 8-0 with only 21 seconds having ticked off the clock.
On their first possession, the Tigers were forced to punt without having gained a first down, giving the Eagles the ball on their own 41-yard line. A quick drive down the field led to a 7-yard touchdown run by senior Quenton Samuel. Junior Philip Roger’s extra point was good, giving the Eagles a 15-0 lead with 8:32 left in the first quarter.
After Calhoun turned the ball over on downs, Neal needed only two plays to score again on a 13-yard run by sophomore Jacobey Hawthorne. Roger’s PAT was good, putting Neal in the lead 22-0, with 7:23 to play in the first quarter.
The Eagles kicked off to the Tigers, and three plays later, sophomore Marvin Maddox intercepted the ball, setting Neal up for a 37-yard touchdown pass from J. Hawthorne to senior Troy Lewis. The extra point attempt was no good, but the Eagles lead increased to 28-0 with 4:00 left in the first quarter.
Neal senior Dalton Shell intercepted a pass on Calhoun’s next possession. The Eagles used six plays to drive down the field and score with a 1-yard run by junior Peyton Salter. The PAT was no good, moving the score to 34-0 with 10:34 left in the second quarter.
To finish out the first half, Shell made another interception and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Matthew Thomas. Senior Jared Cooper also made an interception, which led to a 29-yard dash across the goal line by Thomas, bringing the score to 48-0 Neal to finish the first half.
The teams agreed to play 6 minute quarters and not stop the clock in the second half. Calhoun received the ball to start the third quarter, taking possession on their own 29-yard line. They sustained a drive that included four first downs and ended with a 23-yard touchdown run by Gauge Giddens. The extra point was no good, so with 14 seconds on the clock in the third quarter, the score was Neal over Calhoun 48-6.
The Eagles took possession of the ball on their own 45-yard line, maintaining that possession for most of the fourth quarter. The drive ended with a 7-yard touchdown scramble by senior Andrew Langham. With 49 seconds left to play, the extra point was no good, bringing the score to 54-6, which would be the final score of the game.
With 31 seconds left on the clock, Neal freshman Noah Hill intercepted a pass from Calhoun quarterback Kaelan Riley. There was time for one more snap and then the clock wound down, ending a Neal-dominant homecoming.
When asked what he’d learned from seeing the younger athletes get so much playing time, Coach Hoehn replied, “A couple of them surprised me. I’ll just be honest with you. A couple of them did some very good things. For down the road, it helps us with injuries, it helps us with depth, and it helps us for next year.”
The Eagles amassed 488 total yards of offense, 358 on the ground and 130 in the air. Calhoun had 102 yards of total offense, 57 rushing and 45 passing.
J. Hawthorne led the Eagles rushing with four carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. Gantt had one carry for 49 yards and one touchdown. Langham ran the ball 4 times for 35 yards and one touchdown. Thomas rushed for 29 yards and a touchdown on one carry, while Salter ran 4 times for 23 yards and a touchdown.
Thomas was 6 for 7 passing for 71 yards and one touchdown. The leading receiver was Lewis with two receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. Shell had 3 receptions for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Maddox led the defense with three tackles and one interception. Cooper had two tackles and an interception. Shell had two interceptions.
“I think it was a good homecoming,” Hoehn said. “I think our band did a super job tonight. We had a lot of school spirit this week during school. The teachers were great. The cheerleaders were great. We had a lot of people show up, and a lot of people come back for their class reunions, so I think it was a good homecoming all the way around.”
Next week the Eagles play Monroe County High School at home. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.