The New Hanover football team put in its best overall performance of the season on Friday night as the Wildcats dominated both sides of the ball en route to a 52-15 victory over third-ranked Durham-Hillside at Legion Stadium.
Tre Age scored four touchdowns and helped a ground attack rush for over 280 yards, while holding an explosive Hornets offense to just two first downs, the first of which came at the midway point of the third quarter.
“The most complete game all year by far,” said New Hanover Coach Earl Smith. “I think the defense set the tone early. I’m really proud of our guys and the hard work we put in all week to get ready for this game.”
New Hanover scored on 8 of 10 possessions, recorded 22 first downs and moved the chains with nine third down conversions. Conversely, Hillside committed three turnovers, with Ronnie Beatty and Freddie Taylor intercepting passes from quarterback Chauncey Caldwell.
The Wildcats credited a good push up front to a healthy offensive line and strong effort between the tackles with Age, Wiz Vaughn and Javeon Hall getting a bulk of the carries at running back.
“We got one of our starting linemen (Andrew Rouse) back this week from injury and knew we could move the linebackers out,” said Age. “Coach said we were going to attack the middle of the field and that’s what we did.”
A turnover on downs on the Hornets’ first drive of the game gave New Hanover good field position at the Hillside 38-yard line and Age scored four plays later on a three-yard sweep around the right edge for the early 7-0 lead.
After a three and out on the next possession, Burke Estes engineered a 13-play, 62-yard drive over five minutes to grab a 10-0 advantage following a 38-yard field goal by Josiah Eason. Estes hit Garrett Walston on consecutive third down plays, including a 3rd and 11 with a pass across the middle in double coverage.
Hillside used its big play ability all year as PAC-6 4A Conference Champions, but were held to just one highlight reel catch to cut the deficit to three late in the opening frame when Caldwell found Marcus Krah wide open on a 40-yard strike.
“Against an opponent like that, we knew they had the weapons to make plays downfield,” said Smith. “But, we scored every time on offense and saw some things on film that we thought we could take advantage of. You have to give all the credit to our guys for executing.”
With the Wildcats in front 10-7 after 12 minutes of action, New Hanover’s offense continued to move like a well-oiled machine. A nine-play, 80-yard possession was capped on a two-yard touchdown run by Age to make it a 10-point game early in the second quarter. Following another three and out by Hillside, New Hanover finished a dominating first half with a seven minute possession and one-yard score by Age for his third trip to the end zone. Estes connected with Age on a 13 yard pass on 3rd and 7 to move the chains as the Wildcats used a well-balanced run to pass ratio to take a 24-7 lead at the break.
New Hanover took the second kickoff and marched right down field on six straight run plays for the score, a 19-yard touchdown by Age.
Hall also had a nine-yard score, Walston recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and Vaughn hit Lamont Howard on a 40-yard reverse pass to put the game in check with 7:49 remaining.
“We definitely came out flat against West Johnston and the last few days of practice really set things up for us,” Age added. “The defense has stepped up for us big time and we’re just excited about the opportunity to play next week.”
Estes completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 137 yards, hitting five different receivers in the game. Walston finished with four receptions for 54 yards and one score, while the Hornets were held to 161 yards of total offense.
Hillside saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end Friday as the Hornets close the season 10-3 overall.
With their tenth straight win, the Wildcats improved to 12-2 overall and secured the program’s first 4A East Regional contest since 2009.
No. 2 New Hanover will host No. 5 J.H. Rose for a right to play in the state championship on Friday, Dec. 4. The Rampants defeated No. 1 D.H. Conley 49-47 to advance in the 4A playoffs.
New Hanover 10-14-14-14=52
New Hanover- Tre Age, 3-yard run (PAT, Josiah Eason) 8:15
New Hanover- Josiah Eason, 38-yard field goal, 1:39
Hillside- Chauncey Caldwell, 40-yard pass to Marcus Krah, (PAT, Amir Jones) :16
New Hanover- Tre Age, 2-yard run (PAT, Eason) 9:10
New Hanover- Tre Age, 1-yard run (PAT, Eason) 1:40
New Hanover- Tre Age, 19-yard run (PAT, Eason) 9:30
New Hanover- Javeon Hall, 9-yard run (PAT, Eason) 7:10
New Hanover- Garrett Walston, fumble recovery (PAT, Eason) 11:40
New Hanover- Wiz Vaughn, 40-yard pass to Lamont Howard (PAT, Eason) 7:49
Hillside- Jamal Elliott, 8-yard run, (2-point conversion) 6:42