When he retired for the first time in 2009, David Howle’s lone source of regret was that he was never able to coach the Bunn Wildcats to a state football title game. But Howle returned to Bunn in 2013, and three seasons later his long-time desire has finally been fulfilled, albeit in unlikely fashion.
With one tick remaining in regulation, Bunn kicker Fabian Avila-Soria calmly booted a 24-yard field goal to force overtime during the Wildcats’ home contest against Clinton in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2AA East regional final.
Bunn scored first in the extra session, and Avila-Soria delivered once again with a clutch PAT.
Clinton countered with a touchdown of its own, but the extra point was pulled to the left, giving the Wildcats their first-ever state championship game appearance following a wild 30-29 victory.
Bunn (13-2) will tangle with Monroe for the 2AA championship on Saturday Dec. 12 at 8:05 p.m. at N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
“It feels great to do this for Coach Howle,” said Bunn senior running back Tevin Perry, who caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Quenten Wright in overtime to send his club ahead. “When you grow up around here, that’s something you dream about – playing in the state finals. Now, the dream is coming true.”
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and took up most of the first quarter with a 21-play drive that was capped by Chris Bumpers’ 4-yard touchdown run at the 2:48 mark of the period.
Following an exchange of possessions, Bunn struck again on a 24-yard touchdown run up the middle from Omar Rosa to take charge at 14-0.
But Clinton’s high-powered offense began to surge, and the Dark Horses (11-3) clawed back to tie the score at 20-20 on a Rayquan Faison 34-yard scoring burst with 8:49 remaining.
After a Bunn punt, Faison escaped for 63 yards and appeared headed for the end zone, only to be tackled by Wildcat Victor Dunston at the Bunn 7-yard line.
Dunston’s heroics proved to be crucial as Clinton received just a field goal from Chandler Perry from 21 yards with just 51 seconds remaining.
The Dark Horses were on the verge of another trip to the state finals, but Bunn received good field position at midfield following a squib kick.
Passes to Perry and tight end Ian Land put Bunn inside the 10, but the dream appeared over after quarterback Quenten Wright was tackled off an option play with time running out.
Somehow, Wright spiked the ball with just one second left, though Clinton’s players rushed on to the field in celebration. After a delay to sort out the situation, Avila-Soria stepped up and sent the game into overtime with his clutch kick.
“I just had to do it for my teammates,” Avila-Soria said. “It wasn’t just for me. I wasn’t nervous. I just wanted to make everybody happy. I wanted to keep this thing going.”
In overtime, Bunn faced a third-and-seven, but Wright found Perry, who outjumped two Clinton defenders in the end zone for a touchdown.
Avila-Soria came through again with the PAT, and Bunn was ahead 30-23.
It took Clinton only two plays to respond thanks to Ryheem Skinner’s 6-yard TD run. The Dark Horses had a decision to go for two or the PAT, and chose the extra point – only to see it curve left, which set off a huge celebration along the Bunn sideline.
“There wasn’t much left to do in that situation but just stand there,” Perry said. “I took my helmet off and prayed.”
Moments later, Howle was accepting Bunn’s first-ever regional championship plaque – a gesture he never envisioned would happen after his retirement six years ago.
“We’ve come close before,” Howle said. “I told our kids this wasn’t just for them, but for everyone who has ever put on a Bunn uniform. This is just a special group that never gives up. They showed that one more time. We knew it was going to be a challenge to beat Clinton. We knew we had to play with heart.”