A rough couple of weeks for Newton-Conover ended Friday with a victory, while Bunker Hill’s slide continued.
Despite trailing 17-7, the Red Devils (4-4, 1-3) rallied behind quarterback Kevin Cline and running back Thomas Corpening. The duo scored three second-half touchdowns between them on the way to a 35-25 comeback victory on homecoming at Gurley Stadium.
“This couldn’t have come at a better time because we were sinking fast,” said Red Devils coach Nick Bazzle. “After losing that tough one (in double overtime to East Burke) last week, it was really hard this week to get them back focused. It being Bunker Hill helped us because it is a rivalry.”
A chance for a Newton-Conover win looked bleak in the first half. The Bears’ rushing duo of Justin Lynch and Reggie Davis combined for 195 yards on 27 carries in the opening half. The two backs carried the Bears (5-3, 1-3) to an early 14-0 lead behind two first-quarter touchdown runs.
The longest run of the half was a 54-yard scamper by Davis down the right side of the field. He finished the first quarter with 116 rushing yards.
“In the first half, we just missed some tackles,” Bazzle said. “We were there. We didn’t make any adjustments defensively because we stuck with our game plan. We just made some fundamental errors, kept our head down and missed some tackles when we were in position to make it. Reggie broke a couple of long runs on us because of that.”
Down, but not out, Newton-Conover took the halftime break to regroup and re-strategize. A key offensive play Bazzle made in the locker room was executed to perfection to start the second half.
Thomas Corpening, who had three carries for six yards in the first half, ran through the right side of the Bunker Hill defense on his way to a 72-yard touchdown.
“I know we couldn’t give up,” Corpening said. “We had a good week at practice this week. We had to come out there hard. We knew what we had to do, came out and did it. Our lineman blocked excellent for us, and we made it happen.”
The play fired up the Red Devil defense, which held the Bears to three carries, no yards and a punt on its next possession.
“We weren’t sure how our defense was going to play,” said Cline. “We knew we could score points, but we were just kind of hesitant at first. When Thomas got that big run, it just settled us in and let us do what we do best.”
After trading possessions, the Red Devils got the ball back and struck on first down. Kline, who didn’t throw on a pass in the first half, connecting with Jayme Arnold on a 57-yard throw and catch, putting Newton-Conover ahead for the first time.
“When we made some adjustments in our pass protection, Kevin was able to get time to throw,” Bazzle said. “He can throw the football, and we’ve got receivers that can catch it. Jayme Arnold made a really nice play on the catch that he double caught with the defensive back, pulled out and scored with it. That boy has been a night and day improvement. He’s been a really big contribution to us on both sides of the ball.”
Bunker Hill wasn’t able to get anything going on its first three possessions of the half. On nine plays, the Bears netted no yards and had to punt the ball three times.
“It didn’t look to me that they made any adjustments on defense,” said Bears coach Travis Conner. “It looked like their defensive got off the ball a little bit better than they did in the first half.”
After Cline broke free on a 9-yard touchdown run to put the Red Devils up 11, the Bears finally made gains behind the legs of Lynch. He had two long rushes during the next drive, going 27 yards for a first down and 28 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion run by Lynch put Bunker Hill within a field goal.
However, exactly three minutes later Newton-Conover running back Matt Coulter put the game away on a 59-yard touchdown run to put the Red Devils up 10 with 3:36 remaining.
“We gave up big plays in the second half,” Conner said. “They had three huge plays in the second half. We didn’t make plays. It is as simple as that.”
The Bears tried to drive again, but failed to convert on a crucial fourth down, letting time expire.
Newton-Conover finished the night rushing 39 times for 286 yards, including 130 yards from Coulter and 76 from Corpening. Cline had 46 rushing yards and completed all four of his passes for 94 yards.
Bunker Hill rushed 49 times for 330 rushing yards, including 234 by Davis and 96 by Lynch.
Newton-Conover travels next week to Draughn, which lost 27-20 to South Iredell, while Bunker Hill goes to face winless West Caldwell.