MINT HILL -- Rushing ruled the day for the Hickory Ridge football team, as the Ragin’ Bulls scored four touchdowns in the first half to breeze to a 42-6 road victory over Independence in their Southwestern 4A Conference opener Friday night.
“We have an identity,” said Hickory Ridge coach Jupiter Wilson. “We’re going to run the counter, we’re going to run the power. When teams try to stop us, we’re going to find a way to do it anyway. That’s what we did today, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Junior running back Mookie McWilliams, who said he was playing for a cousin in the intensive care unit, ran with a heavy heart, scoring the Bulls’ first three touchdowns to give them a 21-6 lead. He finished with 116 yards on 17 carries.
“My teammates supported me today,” McWilliams said. “I was playing emotional today. I was trying to keep my calm and play for (my cousin), and I’m glad we got the victory today.”
Ick Cirino also ran for a 22-yard touchdown to give Hickory Ridge a 28-6 halftime lead, and Nolan Carey Jr. added a 38-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. All told, the Ragin’ Bulls finished with 317 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Speaking of rushing, the Ragin’ Bulls’ defense held the Patriots to 38 rushing yards in the first half. Hickory Ridge forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, and linebacker Joey Tuders forced a fumble in the second quarter that led to Cirino’s touchdown run.
“We played very well,” Tuders said. “We focused on the small things, and by doing that we did the big things right. We played as a family tonight, and we had our hair on fire, because last week’s loss (to Northwest Cabarrus) hurt, and we needed to get back on top in our first conference game.”
In the second half, the defense continued to play on fire, forcing a three-and-out after the Ragin’ Bulls botched the opening kickoff. The Patriots would miss a 33-yard field goal.
After a Hickory Ridge punt, the defense immediately gave up a 47-yard pass, tackling the receiver on the 2-yard line. Independence tried to hurry up and snap the ball for a quick touchdown, but Cooper Williams refused to allow that.
The Patriots tailback ran into a scrum, and Williams went around the scrum to punch the ball out. After the punch, he jumped on top of the ball. After that red zone stop, Independence didn’t really come close to scoring until the end of the game.
“The defense had their head up all game,” said Hickory Ridge junior safety Tyrell Davis, who had an interception in first quarter. “Nobody was lackadaisical; everyone was reading their keys and making big plays.”
HIckory Ridge 4-1 overall, 1-0 4A Southwestern Conference; Independence 2-3,, 0-1 4A Southwestern Conference
THE PLAY OF THE GAME
In the first quarter, down 7-0, Independence was in the midst of a long drive, reaching the red zone to try and tie the game. Hickory Ridge safety Tyrell Davis had other plans by playing center field and snagging an interception.
Independence ran a fake wide receiver bubble screen, but Davis didn’t fall for it. After he saw the quarterback pump fake, he ran directly toward the sideline at the receiver running a go-route to the end zone. The quarterback lofted the ball up to his receiver, but Davis cut underneath and jumped for the interception, returning it to the opposing 48-yard line.
-- McWilliams scored three touchdowns, rushing for 116 yards on 17 carries.
-- Jaylen Nicholson played stingy defense all game, culminating with a fourth-quarter interception.
-- Quarterback Kobe Clifton threw for 191 yards and a touchdown on 13-for-20 passing. In the first half, he was nearly perfect, throwing 12-for-15 with 144 yards.
-- Quarterback Arnold Taylor finished with 284 yards on 18-for-38 passing.
-- Wide receiver Trevor Bryan caught 5 passes for 94 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown.
-- Defensive back Shai Wheeler had an interception and a sack.
-- Hickory Ridge’s rushing defense was on point, holding the Patriots to fewer than 100 yards all game.
-- When needed most, the Ragin’ Bulls defense came up clutch. It either forced three-and-outs or created turnovers after each of its offense’s four turnovers.
-- After a strong first half, the Ragin’ Bulls came out lethargic in the second half, fumbling the ball multiple times on offense. Luckily, they were able to recover all but one. But against stronger competition, they might not get so lucky.
WHAT’S UP NEXT?
Hickory Ridge returns home to face Garinger next week, and Independence travels to East Mecklenburg.
Hickory Ridge 14 14 0 14 -- 42
Independence 6 0 0 0 -- 6
HR-- Mookie McWilliams 4 run (Riley Stubbs kick)
HR -- McWilliams 20 run (Stubbs kick)
I -- Trevor Bryan 62 pass from Arnold Taylor (2 pt. failed)
HR -- McWilliams 3 run (Stubbs kick)
HR -- Ick Cirino 22 run (Stubbs kick)
HR -- Nolan Carey Jr 38 run (Stubbs kick)
HR -- Malik Tobias 47 pass from Kobe Clifton (Stubbs kick)