Newton-Conover’s first half at Hickory could best be described by a line from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — a tale … full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
After a frustrating first half, the Red Devils pushed that aside with four touchdowns in four possessions to take a 31-6 win over host Hickory Friday night at Frank Barger Stadium.
The nonconference win by Newton-Conover (2-0) avenged a 35-6 loss from a year ago and increased its dominance in the series to 9-3 since 2008. However, Hickory (0-3) still holds the overall series lead at 47-27-2 since it began in 1923.
The Red Devils took a 3-0 lead into the halftime locker room. Yet, judging by the statistical advantages it held in the first half, the lead likely should have been more.
Playing against a Red Tornadoes team using their fourth-string quarterback, Newton-Conover outgained Hickory 184 to 79 while holding the Red Tornadoes without a first down until 5:30 to play in the first half. But after Addison Hayes drove in a 32-yard field goal on the first possession, the Red Devils came up empty in the first 24 minutes of play.
After giving up 82 points over the first two games, Hickory coach Russell Stone was pleased with the improvement of the defense. However, he bemoaned the poor execution on offense.
“Our defense is getting much better,” said Stone. “Our problems are on offense. We dropped passes and we had bad snaps that killed drives. We just didn’t support our defense. I thought, by far, they played their best defense.”
Early in the second quarter, Sakarri Morrison blocked a Hickory punt to set his team up on the Red Tornadoes’ 18-yard line. Hickory held until fourth down, when Allen Wilfong ran 11 yards for a score. But the touchdown was called back due to an illegal formation and a subsequent swing pass from Justice Craig to Wilfong came up short.
The Red Devils’ next possession moved to the Hickory 2, from where Allan Shade bulldozed into the end zone. Yet again, a penalty, this time for an illegal shift, waived off the score and the drive stalled at the 3 as time expired.
While Newton-Conover coach Steven Pack disagreed with the first penalty that nullified the Wilfong score, he said the inability to finish the drives was on his squad.
“We’ve should’ve punched it in down there on fourth down,” Pack said. “We want to be great and in order to be great we’ve got to punch those plays in.”
However, Pack was pleased with how the defense played throughout the game.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our defense,” Pack said. “They flew around. They were flying to the ball. Twenty-one (Hickory’s Cody Young) is the one of the best players, by far. We swarmed them and got 11 hats to the ball. That’s what we do.”
Whatever distress the Red Devils took into the locker room went away quickly in the second half. They seized momentum quickly on the first play from scrimmage when Craig hit Zane Redmond on a quick catch-and-run to the left for a 49-yard touchdown. Hayes’ point-after made it 10-0.
“That was huge,” Pack said. “We knew we were getting the ball back. We went together and looked at the video and saw what we liked. We had a few things in mind that we thought were going to work and they worked really well.”
The Red Tornadoes also appeared energized after halftime, as they drove down the field. Quarterback Gage Lackey, taking over for last week’s starter Jack Tomlinson (shoulder) — the Red Tornadoes are also without projected starter Jason Martin (shoulder) and his backup Daniel Amos (foot) — dumped a swing pass to Young, who took it 51 yards down to the Red Devils’ 4. That was as far as Hickory would get before settling for a 23-yard field goal attempt. The kick from Ben Boston went wide left.
“At that point, it was early in the game and we had a chance to make a statement and take over and do some things,” Stone said.
From there, Newton-Conover’s Wilfong continually pounded the left side of the line for yardage. Craig completed two third-down passes before Wilfong’s 35-yard run around the left end set up his touchdown run from the 4.
Wilfong finished the game with 27 carries for 173 yards, with 100 coming in the second half.
Wilfong’s backup Shade, who added 60 yards rushing, finished off the Red Devils’ scoring with runs of 15 and 8 yards.
Shade’s touchdowns were sandwiched around Hickory’s only score, which came on a leaping catch by Malakei Sumner in the end zone after Lackey rolled to his right and completed the 21-yard pass play.
Young was the workhorse for Hickory as he picked up 195 yards on 22 carries to go with his 51-yard catch.
Both teams go on the road next Friday, as the Red Devils visit Hendersonville and Hickory travels to Hunter Huss.