The Hillside Hornets advanced to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A football playoffs after defeating the E.E Smith Golden Bulls, 42-28.
The 5-seed Hornets (8-4) jumped out quickly as Ricquaz Brannon capped an 80-yard opening drive with a 2-yard run. Hillside scored two more times, racing out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter. Brannon had two rushing touchdowns, and Gerald Wilkes Jr. had a 31-yard interception score to end the first.
Hillside will face 4-seed and undefeated Seventy-First in Fayetteville next week after the Falcons took down Riverside.
“We were on top of our game early,” said Hornets coach Antonio King. “The first half we were clicking on all cylinders. We had our right calls on defense and were in the right spots.”
But in the third quarter, the game shifted. E.E. Smith, out of Fayetteville, came back from a 35-point deficit with nine minutes left in the third quarter. Quarterback Harold Herbin led the 12-seeded Bulls to 14 unanswered points, with a 15-yard pass to Shawn Barnes, then later with a touchdown run of five yards.
Over the final six minutes of the third quarter, the Golden Bulls outscored Hillside, 21-7, to make things interesting.
“I think we had a little lull in that third quarter. We knew what they wanted to do, and they were able to hit some of their stuff and they stayed in the game,” said King.
In the third quarter when they had all their points, we missed some assignments and rotations. We gave up some long touchdown passes.”
Hillside made it 42-14 after Marcus Krah returned a kickoff 70 yards with just under two minutes left in the game. But E.E. Smith’s offense continued to fire away, as they answered just one minute later when Herbin hit Aaron Whitaker for a 39-yard touchdown pass.
Krah’s kickoff momentarily took back the momentum that Hillside had controlled for much of the game.
“[The kickoff] was a huge play,” said King. “But [E.E. Smith] kept the ball a lot in that third quarter. The energy they were playing with on defense, we were cold on offense. I think the weather got to them early, and us in the third quarter. But it’s the playoffs. You live and learn, and we’re just happy to be playing next week.”
The Golden Bulls scored the lone touchdown in the fourth, cutting the deficit to two scores with seven minutes remaining on their season, but couldn’t find the end zone as they were hampered by offensive penalties and stalled drives. They finished the season 8-4.
Brannon ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
For the Golden Bulls, Harold Herbin led the offense, throwing for 224 yards and running for 64 yards on his way to a four-touchdown night.