Garner’s special teams and defense gave the offense a chance to take most of the night off Friday in the opening round of the NCHSAA 4AA playoffs.
The Trojans, seeded second in the East, got three touchdowns from their special teams and two from their defense as Garner rolled to a 45-6 victory over 15th-seeded Wilmington Laney.
Garner (11-1) advanced to a second-round meeting with Wakefield. Laney finished 5-6.
The Trojans’ offense ran only 10 plays from scrimmage during the first half – just one in the second quarter – as Garner built a 38-0 lead.
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Senior defensive back Raekwon Britton was around the ball all night, returning two blocked punts for touchdowns and picking up a fumble and taking it in for six points. Britton also recovered a second fumble as the Trojans dominated.
“The coaches said special teams were going to be the big key for us to keep advancing in the playoffs,” Britton said. “We just took that to heart and kept competing. We told everybody to leave everything out of the field.
“That was the first time I’ve ever had a game like that.”
Collin Eaddy blocked both of the punts Britton ran in for scores and got into the scoring act himself during the second half when he pressured the Laney punter into dropping the ball off the side of his foot. Eaddy picked it up at the 23 and returned it for the final touchdown.
Senior running back Nyheim Hines had 94 yards on seven carries, scoring twice for the Trojans. Hines had the only play from scrimmage for the Trojans in the second quarter, running 47 yards for a touchdown.
Hines carried the ball only once during the second half before limping off the field. With Garner ahead big, Hines did not return – sitting out with ice on his left knee.
Hines said he was fine, that he had bumped his knee against a Laney player’s knee.
Laney drove down the field on its first possession, moving to the Garner 18 before stalling. Then the block party began, with the Trojans bursting in and blocking a 35-yard field-goal attempt.
Garner went 81 yards in six plays, with Hines carrying it in from the 7 for a 7-0 lead.
On Laney’s next possession, the first of the second quarter, Eaddy blocked a punt and Britton scooped it up and took it in from the 11.
After forcing another punt that the Bucs barely got off and went only 16 yards, the Trojans handed the ball to Hines and he went 47 yards for the score on the first play – a run which would turn out to be Garner’s lone play from scrimmage in the quarter.
On Laney’s next possession, defensive lineman Jaelun Dean picked off a pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to give Garner a 25-0 lead.
“We’ll take it however we can get them,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “The coaches did a good job of getting those guys ready and everybody executed what they put in.”
Leach said assistant coach Corey Lyons picked up something in Laney’s blocking scheme on punts and devised a way to get players coming in untouched from the corners. It worked like a charm, with Britton the beneficiary.
“Coach Lyons gets all the credit for those blocks,” Leach said.