By Donnie Biggers
It was fitting that a big night for the Hickory Ridge High football program was punctuated by a lot of big plays.
With junior quarterback Brett Lilly leading the big-play parade, Hickory Ridge picked up the program’s first win, taking a 43-14 South Piedmont 3A victory over Piedmont Monday night at Hickory Ridge.
Lilly passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Ragin’ Bulls finished their first year of play at 1-10, 1-7 SPC.
“We talked about that all week, that the most important thing was to win this football game,” said Hickory Ridge coach Marty Paxton.
“Another thing we talked about was getting our off-season program started with a win. And I consider this the start of our off-season.”
It didn’t take long to start in that direction. On the game’s first possession, Lilly broke a 48-yard run that set up a 28-yard field goal by Brandon Burch to stake the Bulls to a 3-0 lead.
A touchdown pass of 34 yards from Lilly to Coye Still, a 67-yard scoring run by Lilly and a 19-yard pass from Lilly to Chase Phillips gave Hickory Ridge a 23-0 lead with 3:01 left in the first half.
But while Piedmont (0-10, 0-7) entered in the same situation as Hickory Ridge, Paxton was not ready to get comfortable. Set up by a 28-yard pass from Taylor Coots to Chris Butler to the Hickory Ridge 1, Butler scored on the next play to pull Piedmont within 29-14 with 5:08 left in the third quarter.
“It was nice to finally control the football game,” said Paxton. “But there were still some times I was a little nervous because they have got some kids that can hurt you with quick-strike plays.”
But while Piedmont tried to get back in the game, Hickory Ridge always had some lightning left in the bottle.
After starting the second half with an 18-yard touchdown run by Brandon Baltimore, the Ragin’ Bulls would pull away from Piedmont’s threat with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Lilly to Martin Murrell and a 10-yard return of a blocked punt by Chuckie Sahanas to up the lead to 43-14 with 11:13 left to play.
Along with the first win for the program, the victory was the first as a head coach for Paxton.
“I told the guys that I thank them for the moment, because this is the biggest moment of my coaching career,” said Paxton, who was the recipient of a group tackle by many of his players after the win. “And to win your first game is the biggest moment of your career, and to do it here in front of our students is just great.”
Lilly, who went over 1,000 yards passing in the game, finished 12-for-22 for 199 yards and rushed for 161 yards on 16 carries.
Murrell caught six passes for 115 yards.
Defensively, the Ragin’ Bulls got pass interceptions from Logan Pierce and Kirk Werth.