The state’s top-ranked 4A team looked like the state championship contender it is Friday night.
New Bern, the No. 1 seed in the 4A eastern regional, scored the game’s first 50 points, put together one of the most dominant defensive halves of play of the season and ended Clayton’s season with a 50-14 triumph.
The Bears (12-0) held Clayton to a net loss of 10 yards in the first half. The Comets, who finished the season at 6-6, didn’t have a play that produced positive yardage until the game was 11 minutes old.
“They’ve been playing that way all year,” New Bern coach Bobby Curlings said of his defense. “As long as they play assignment football and don’t try to freelance too much, they’re pretty good.”
New Bern stymied the Comets’ typically productive offense with a series of blitzes up the middle, keeping standout Clayton senior quarterback Eric Hoy from getting anything going until the late stages of the game when Hoy shifted to mainly a running back role.
Offensively, the Bears mixed a myriad of slashing runners and consistently good field position into touchdowns on seven of their first eight possessions of the game.
The game’s first offensive possession set the tone with New Bern shaking off a high snap that lost 11 yards and a pass that was nearly intercepted by the Comets at the goal line. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 14-yard-line, the Bears elected to go for the score and converted when senior quarterback Quincy Wright avoided the Clayton pass rush long enough for Tyric McCarter to come free open across the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
Wright, playing in place of injured standout quarterback Mike Hughes, led the highly productive offensive night for the Bears.
New Bern’s next two TD drives covered 35 yards or less. D.J. Howard’s 2-yard run with 2:25 to play in the first quarter wrapped up a 26-yard drive and Rayshi Bolds jaunted in from 19 yards out on the first play of the second quarter to end a 35-yard TD drive.
Trying to stay alive, the Comets went for fourth down conversions twice in their own territory only to see the Bears’ defense — led by linebackers Charles Noble and Sha’mond Squires — stiffen at just the right time.
Strong defensive outings have been the New Bern trademark all season. They haven’t allowed a team more than 14 points since giving up 21 to Havelock back on Aug. 29.
Brennen Solieau pushed the lead to 29-0 with 7:32 in the first half on a 1-yard run and Howard scored his second TD of the night on an 8-yard run with 3:33 left in the half.
New Bern wrapped up its scoring in the first half with a 4-yard run by Craig Stokes with 56.6 seconds left.
The Bears ran for 279 yards on 38 attempts and were extremely balanced. Five Bears ran for more than 40 yards but none topped the 65-yard mark. Dee Beckton, the third string quarterback for New Bern, led his team with 65 yards rushing on seven carries.
“We didn’t feel like our offensive line played their best last week (a 33-13 win over Greenville Rose),” Curlings said. “So we really challenged them this week. We tried to light a fire with them and it took.”
Clayton got its offense finally going in the fourth quarter. Hoy threw a 10-yard TD pass to Blake Joyner with 11:50 left in the third quarter, and then scored on a 14-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Hoy ran for 79 yards on 20 carries after being held to a net loss of 11 yards on 10 carries in the first half.