MINT HILL – After a tough non-conference schedule, the Hickory Ridge football team won its first Southwestern 4A Conference game of the year on the road, 42-6, over the Independence Patriots Friday night.
Hickory Ridge coach Jupiter Wilson had some reservations about his team’s performance and mental state heading into the game after a shaky week of practice. His gut instinct was right, unfortunately, for some parts of the game.
“I knew it was going to be a grind for us mentally,” Wilson said. “We had a tough game against Northwest Cabarrus (last week), and that took a lot out of us. Some people wondered how we would react to an environment where the atmosphere was a lot different.”
All four of Hickory Ridge’s non-conference games - Central Cabarrus, Concord, Cox Mill and Northwest Cabarrus - have one thing in common: They are fellow Cabarrus County schools. Wilson’s team had a big emotional connection to those games, since his players know many of the players on the other teams and the crowds were packed.
The game against Independence was a lot different. The crowd was sparse and scattered, and despite the fact it was a conference game, it just felt different for the Ragin' Bulls.
“I don’t think we played with our biggest emotion, and we still got a 42-6 victory against a team that (could be) undefeated,” Wilson said.
In the first half, the Ragin’ Bulls were clicking. They were connecting in the air with 144 passing yards, wreaking havoc on the ground with four rushing touchdowns, and the defense created two turnovers and held the Patriots to one touchdown.
The start of the second half, the mental focus slipped away.
On the kickoff, Hickory Ridge bobbled the ball, and Independence recovered it. On the Bulls’ first possession offensively, they fumbled the ball, but luckily they recovered it. They then proceeded to go three-and-out.
On the ensuing punt, they ran into the punt returner on a fair catch call, and two plays later, they allowed a 47-yard pass to the 2-yard line. Hickory Ridge prevented Independence from scoring, thanks to Cooper Williams’s forced fumble and recovery, but the offense tried to give it right back by fumbling it. Yet again, the Bulls luckily recovered it.
“So (in the first half), we just simplified everything,” Williams said. “Second half, I think we were too confident. And then about halfway through the third quarter, Coach made everyone stand up and put it in our heads that we need to stop being arrogant and go and play ball.”
Wilson said he wasn’t entirely surprised his team came out that way in the second half.
“We were up, 28-6, and how the game was going you felt that (was coming),” he said.
The Bulls straightened it out soon after that. They scored two more touchdowns to squash any hope the Independence had left, and they didn’t allow the Patriots offense to come close to scoring again until fewer than two minutes were left in the game.
“Tonight, we were the better team,” said Wilson. “Mentally, we kind of coasted through. I’m not mad it happened, and the fact we still get our 42-6 victory shows how good we could really be.”