Photo: Gaston’s Malik Redmond tackles West End’s Levi Armstrong during the Bulldogs’ 42-34 in high school football last Friday (Oct. 19) in Walnut Grove. (Sherry Abercrombie Photography)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
It was a historic evening for Gaston High head football coach Swane Morris and senior running back Kameron Hawkins last Friday (Oct. 19), as their Bulldogs went on the road and defeated West End, 42-34 in a Class 2A, Region 6 shootout in Walnut Grove.
Morris earned his 100th career victory, while his team needed every inch of Hawkins’ 434 yards on 30 carries on the ground. Hawkins had the best night of his career as he scored four touchdowns, including two runs of more than 70 yards.
“I’ve been chasing that one forever,” Morris said of his 100th victory with the school. “I told (Hawkins), ‘You made a liar out of me.’ I told him before the game, ‘All right, I want 250 out of you tonight. You’re good for 250.’ He had an unreal game. We changed some stuff around up front and put him in that position. I’m proud of the whole team.”
Gaston (1-7, 1-4) had an eight-point lead with four minutes remaining when the Bulldogs were forced to punt. The Patriots mounted an impressive drive as they methodically moved the ball into Bulldog territory.
West End (0-8, 0-5) faced a fourth down-and-three on the Gaston 20-yard line. Running back Levi Armstrong took the handoff and plunged forward about three yards before his forward progress was stopped, and officials marked him down just shy of the 17.
After a measurement, the officials declared the ball short of the first down marker, and Gaston held on for its first victory of the season.
“That fourth down was a tough spot, but that’s football,” said West End head coach Kyle Davis. “That’s the way it goes… but that’s what football is about. Football is supposed to teach our young men how to handle adversity the right way. As coaches, we’re going to keep working on that. We’re going to keep trying to instill that in them.”
Morris said he was proud of the way his team handled the close game down the stretch.
“It’s tough when you haven’t won a game, and then you have to be in a game where you have to fight to the last few seconds to win,” Morris said. “You just hope your kids remember all the things you’ve talked about from the first day we started. A football game is so much like life, when you must finish it all the way through (even) when you’re tired. I’m proud of them for doing that.”
West End jumped out to an early lead on the last play of the first quarter after Braydon Cooper capped an eight-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
The Bulldogs quickly responded with a five-play drive that culminated with 15-yard touchdown by Baylor Reaves with 8:54 remaining in the second quarter. Gaston’s two-point conversion failed, and the visitors trailed 7-6.
The Bulldogs forced a red zone turnover on West End’s ensuing drive, however, and they marched down the field on another quick scoring drive. A 42-yard run by Hawkins set up a 30-yard touchdown run from Noah Talbot to increase the lead to 12-7. Hawkins ran in the two-point try to push the lead to 14-7 with 5:36 to go until halftime.
West End responded with a four-play scoring drive of its own when quarterback Jacob Jones found receiver Jeremiah Roberson for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was no good, and the Patriots trailed 14-13 with 4:10 remaining in the half.
On the second play of the following drive for Gaston, Hawkins took the handoff and burst down the middle of the field for a 75-yard score to push the lead to 20-13 with 3:11 left in the quarter.
West End went three-and-out on its next drive, and the Bulldogs started their next drive on their own 32.
Gaston quarterback Josh Campbell completed his lone pass of the game when he connected with receiver Malik Redmond on a 39-yard pass to set up the Bulldogs in the red zone. On the next play, Hawkins took the handoff and sprinted up the middle for a 12-yard touchdown to push the lead to 26-13 at the half.
West End put together one of its best drives of the evening to start the second half. The Patriots moved the ball down the field on an eight-play scoring drive, and Jones punched the ball in from a yard out to close the gap to 26-20 with 8:36 remaining in the third quarter.
Gaston answered with a nine-play scoring drive, however, with the Bulldogs using a heavy dosage of Hawkins on the series. Hawkins rushed for a 32-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 34-20 with three minutes left in the quarter.
The Patriots were still in rhythm offensively on their next drive, and Jones capped a seven-play possession with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Eli Pearce with a minute left in the frame.
The teams continued exchanging touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Hawkins broke loose for a 72-yard score on the second play of the quarter to push the lead to 40-27, while Campbell
connected with Talbot for the two-point try to give the Bulldogs a 42-27 lead.
West End answered yet again after Jones led them down the field with several throws, and Armstrong scored from a yard out to close the gap to 42-34.
The Patriots forced a punt on Gaston’s next drive but could not find their way back into the end zone to tie the game.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Davis said. “I thought we got after it. It was obviously the best game we’ve played all year and the most competitive game we’ve played all year, but there are still things we can’t do.
“We can’t give up a touchdown before the half like that when we’re only down seven. We can’t turn the ball over when we’re down inside red zone about to score. I don’t think they stopped us but maybe twice all night.”
Jones completed 14-of-24 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball seven times for 36 yards and a score. Cooper rushed 10 times for 73 yards and a touchdown, while Armstrong carried it 11 times for 65 yards and a score. He also recovered a fumble in the first quarter.
Roberson hauled in seven receptions for 149 yards and a score, while Pearce caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
For Gaston, Talbot carried the ball 12 times for 88 yards and a score. While Campbell only completed one pass, he intercepted a ball on defense near the goal line.
“My kids want to win just as badly as anybody else,” Davis said. “They come to work every day for it. It just wasn’t our night again tonight. We have two more shots to line up and go do it again, so that’s what we’re going to look to do.”
West End travels to Woodland on Friday (Oct. 26) for another region contest, while Gaston hosts Ohatchee in region action.