WENDELL — Bunn’s Tarik Cohen almost single-handedly keelhauled Corinth Holders’ rapidly improving football team Friday night as the Pirates dropped a 40-15 outcome.
Cohen, a 5-foot-6, 165-pound running back, was virtually impossible for the Pirates to bring down, as he raced all over the gridiron and rescued the Wildcats from first-quarter doldrums with a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and added two more scoring runs en route to a 155-yard rushing performance.
His efforts wiped out an aerial assault by the Pirates’ Kenneth Collins, who had directed Corinth Holders to three consecutive wins in revving up a program that had been struggling on both sides of the ball.
Collins, who was accurate on 19-of-39 passes for 231 yards, had led the Pirates down the field against the vaunted Wildcats on Corinth Holders’ first two possessions, resulting in a 9-0 lead.
The first possession saw Collins complete two of his first four passes of the night, driving the Pirates from their 20 yard-line to the Wildcats’ 25 before Cohen stopped the march with an interception at the 9.
Fired up by their success over the previous three weeks, the Pirates, who fell to 3-6 overall and 3-2 in the Northern Carolina 2A Conference, pushed the Wildcats backwards, and were rewarded for their efforts by bringing down Bunn quarterback DeSean High in the end zone for a safety.
Taking possession at his own 39 following the free kick, Collins directed the Pirates on a 10-play, 61-yard scoring drive, culminated by a one-yard touchdown plunge by Will Floyd (68 yards on 14 carries) with 4:23 left in the period for a 9-0 lead.
But everything began to crash in on the Pirates, as Cohen torpedoed the defense with his touchdown return, making several defenders miss as his scored trimmed the margin to 9-7 with 4:10 left in the period. That run ignited the Wildcats on both sides of the ball, while the Pirates’ offense, potent on its first two drives began to sputter.
“We felt we had an opportunity to be up by two touchdowns early,” said Pirates coach Barry Honeycutt. “It might not have been as bad as the score looks if we had, and we may have had a better chance.
“But we made mistakes on the kickoff return. We knew that 22 (Cohen) would be the best back we have seen all season, and knew he would be able to make big plays.”
While the Pirates struggled offensively - going three-and-out on two of their next three possessions and failing to cross their own 40 on any of them - they began to make fatal mental errors.
Two personal foul penalties following a punt to the Wildcats resulted in the ball being placed at the Pirates 15-yard line, which Bunn capitalized on in four plays - a four-yard run by Karilee McLean, put Corinth Holders in a 13-9 hole.
On its next possession, the Wildcats scored on an eight-yard burst by Cohen. The drive was highlighted by a 43-yard catch-and-run by Jonathan Alston on a pass from High.
Corinth Holders temporarily stopped the bleeding and got back in the game when Kiyon Walden picked off an aerial by High and returned it to the Wildcats’ 28.
Collins connected on his next two passes, including a 2-yard strike to Tori Carmichael to draw the Pirates within 20-15. The two-point conversion attempt fell short.
However, Cohen then drove the dagger into the Pirates, darting all over the field with an 80-yard run that took the ball to the Pirates’ 10-yard line, and the Wildcats closed the half with a 24-yard Freeman Jones field goal for a 23-15 lead.
“He (Cohen) is a very speedy player,” Honeycutt said. “Some plays we had him bottled up, but then there were others where he would make us miss. He’s a very shifty player from left-to-right.”
Cohen opened the second half with three carries for 20 yards, and high completed the march with a 53-yard sprint that had the Pirates grasping for air, giving the Wildcats complete control of the game with a 30-15 lead.
The Pirates never came closer than the Wildcats’ 30-yard line, with that drive ending in a sack of Collins, followed by an Alston interception of a Collins pass that he returned to the 11, setting up Colllins’ final TD of the night.
“We started getting players hurt in the second half,” Honeycutt said. “Still we gave a great effort. Bunn is a very physical team, and we knew they would be.
“But we matched their intensity in the first half. What we have to do now is eliminate mistakes and keep up that type of first half intensity for the entire four quarters.”