With East Chapel Hill down 59 points with just over 11 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats’ student section started a chant.
“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” the whited-out fans shouted with equal parts hope and delusion.
Their team, after all, was down by nearly 60 points, and it didn’t get any better, as Chapel Hill gutted the Wildcats 65-6 on Friday night at Culton-Peerman Stadium.
The win was Chapel Hill’s 11th straight against its 4A cross-town rival, letting the Tigers retain control of the Chapel Hill News’s Hodgin Cup, awarded annually to the winner.
“It’s just a win for us,” Tigers running back Jeff McNeil said after the game.
Chapel Hill led 51-6 at halftime, and there was a running clock after that, which was fitting, because both teams worked their running backs.
For the Tigers, the trio of Lonnie Baldwin, McNeil and Ricki McDowell each scored a touchdown and gained positive yards nearly every handoff.
“We are fortunate to have three that we can count on,” Chapel Hill head coach Isaac Marsh said after the game.
Baldwin, a junior, opened the scoring less than three minutes in, on a 1-yard pound into the end zone. After Tigers quarterback Connor Stough, 7-10 for 111 yards and two scores, found senior tight end David Archer wide open on a crossing route for an 8-yard touchdown, McNeil powered his own 8-yarder into the end zone, and it was then 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“We’re all one big team,” said McNeil, who had 69 yards on six carries. “Ricki’s the speed, I’m the power and Lonnie’s the agility.”
No play better exemplified McNeil’s power than a powerful, tackle-breaking 30-yard burst in the second quarter.
“It’s all instinct,” he said.
It was the second of six consecutive carries on that drive for McNeil, whose 10-yard would-be touchdown was called back because of holding.
Chapel Hill settled for a field goal, a 23-yarder by senior Connor Albrecht with 6:35 left in the half, and the score was 37-6.
Tigers Linebacker Coby Fisher, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior who had several big defensive plays, scooped up Wildcats running back Amier Alston’s fumble on the following drive and rumbled 22 yards into the end zone to extend Chapel Hill’s lead.
Alston, a freshman, was the Wildcats’ engine. Early in the second quarter, he took a handoff, cut back, and sprinted down his team’s sideline for a 78-yard touchdown, which briefly infused life into the Wildcats and their spirited student section.
It mattered little, though, because the Tigers would score the game’s next 31 points.