By Jonathan E. Coleman
If Hickory Ridge High School coach Marty Paxton had it to do over again, he would have played the fourth quarter against Jay M. Robinson differently.
With his team trailing 10-7 heading into the final period, Paxton felt good about how far the Ragin’ Bulls had come since their 56-0 loss to Mount Pleasant last week.
In the final 12 minutes, Paxton said he was out coached by veteran Bobby Cloninger on the Bulldogs’ sideline.
“We came out and worked hard this week and look at the score,” he told his team following the game. “I’ll take the blame for this one because I got out coached in the second half. I’m going to get better as a coach and you’re going to get better as a team.”
By his estimation, his young team got a great deal better over the past week.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” he said of the effort of his defense, which held the Bulldogs to only seven first-half points. “They dug our offense out of the hole a lot of the time.”
The defense held the Bulldogs (1-1) on three separate fourth down plays to give the ball back to their offense, including one goal line stand.
Despite their efforts, the Ragin’ Bulls, who were awarded a forfeit victory in their opening match against Mount Pleasant after a Tigers player was deemed ineligible, couldn’t stop Robinson sophomore quarterback Bradley Clay. Clay went 16-25 for 244 yards, including a 49-yard pass to Cyrus Majtabai with 2:46 remaining in the game to seal the Bulldogs win.
“Even though he’s in 10th grade, we talked to him about ‘you’ve got to be the leader on the team,’ ‘you’ve got to be commanding,’” said Cloninger.
Ragin’ Bulls receiver Martin Murrell made school history catching the team’s first touchdown pass at time wound down in the first half. The play, deep in the corner of the end zone, came one play after Murrell hauled in a similar pass that was ruled incomplete when the junior stepped out of bounds.
Robinson’s defense stepped up in the second half, grabbing two interceptions from Hickory Ridge quarterback Brett Lilly, who went 13-30 for 162 yards on the night.
Cloninger credited the Ragin’ Bulls defense in the first half for stopping the Bulldogs run game.
“We’re a play action team,” he said. “We like to play the zone and run, and they stuffed it.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs adjusted.
“We just didn’t make the plays in the first half,” he said. “We saw some things in the second half that we could take advantage of and we did.”
Hickory Ridge plays at Central Cabarrus next week, while Robinson will host Concord.
• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at 704-789-9105.