By Mark Stein
There wasn’t a pregame pep talk. No rah-rah speech.
In fact, Hickory Ridge coach Marty Paxton admits he didn’t say much at all.
He didn’t need to.
After suffering a 56-0 loss to Mount Pleasant in their inaugural game a year ago, motivation wasn’t a problem for the Ragin’ Bulls in Friday night’s season-opening rematch with the Tigers.
Fueled by a brilliant performance from senior quarterback Brett Lilly and a defense that clamped down when it counted the most, the Ragin’ Bulls not only got the revenge they had waited 365 days to get but dished out a little punishment of their own with a convincing 34-6 nonconference victory.
“Man, that was sweet,” Paxton said, a big smile on his face. “I don’t know what to say, really. I mean, it’s great because our kids remembered last year from moment one. And that was the biggest thing. They said, ‘coach, I’ve been waiting one year for this date.’”
They certainly didn’t squander the opportunity.
Leading 7-0 at halftime — Lilly found Curtis Hill in the flat and the speedy wide receiver sprinted down the sideline for an 81-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage — Hickory Ridge grabbed the momentum early in the third quarter with an impressive goal-line stand.
The Ragin’ Bulls denied the Tigers the game-tying score four times from inside the 5-yard line, stuffing Mount’s bruising tailback Haywood Forte for no gain from inside the 1 on the last two plays.
“These kids were extremely well prepared,” Paxton said. “They prepared themselves extremely well in the offseason. They were just ready.”
On the next play, Lilly dropped back to pass in the end zone, took off up the middle, then zig-zagged to the left toward the sideline. He got a key block from Hill on the outside, turned the corner and raced 99 yards untouched for a score the Tigers were never able to recover from.
“That broke our back,” Mount coach Mike Johns said of the play that proved to be the turning point in what had been up to that point an even affair.
“I think it stunned our kids,” Johns added. “It stunned us. We’re not used to this, this group is not used to this.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Lilly’s scintillating play paled in comparison to how the rest of the second half went.
Lilly scored on a 1-yard plunge on Hickory Ridge’s next possession, then connected with Coye Still on the two-point conversion try to make it 21-0.
In the fourth quarter, it went from bad to worse for the Tigers when Casey Honeycutt fumbled after a 7-yard reception from quarterback Evan Seymour.
Hickory Ridge linebacker Jarret Rice, who ended a Mount drive with a fumble recovery in the end zone at the end of the first quarter, scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 25 yards for the touchdown and a 27-0 cushion.
“Our defense is tremendous,” Paxton said. “If most people remember us from last year it was that group that kept us in a lot of ball games until halftime. After that, we just weren’t physically strong enough.”
The Ragin’ Bulls definitely showed strength on that side of the ball against the Tigers, forcing two fumbles, getting an interception from Nathan Furr and sacking Seymour twice.
Mount managed less than 300 yards total offense.
“Obviously, I did a poor job preparing them because we didn’t tackle well,” Johns said. “We didn’t execute … on offense we moved the ball but we didn’t execute at important times. We’ve got to get that fixed.”
The Ragin’ Bulls widened the gap to 34-0 with 4:37 to play on a 16-yard strike from Lilly to Chase Phillips.
Lilly played a part in all but one of Hickory Ridge’s scores, finishing the night with 132 yards rushing and 221 passing.
“He’s what makes us tick,” Paxton said of Lilly. “Obviously, teams that run this type of offense they run it because they have some kids on the outside who have some speed. We had a couple of kids get away tonight. We’re not real fast, but we had a couple of kids who were able to make some moves and make plays, and you’ve got to have a good quarterback to make it work.”
Hill only had three catches, but he made the most of it with 107 yards.
“He’s done extremely well,” Paxton said of Hill.
Brian Baltimore backed Lilly with 83 yards on 15 carries.
Michael Furr paced the Tigers with 38 yards on eight carries, including a 4-yard run for Mount’s lone score with 1:37 remaining. Josh Furr chipped in a 46-yard run. Seymour, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, completed 14 of 26 passes for 109 yards and an interception.
“Hats off to Hickory Ridge,” Johns said. “They did a great job.”