West Johnston gave Mideastern Conference champion New Hanover just about everything it could handle but the Wildcats’ upset bid came up just short as they bowed out in the second round 24-17 at Wilmington’s Legion Stadium.
Needing a score to potentially tie the game or take the lead, West Johnston marched all the way to the New Hanover 6-yard line with just over a minute to play.
On fourth-down-and0goal, Andre Wilson threw to the end zone looking for Mikia Jacobs but New Hanover’s Carroll Brisbon stepped in front to pick off the pass and seal the game for second-seeded New Hanover.
“I’m extremely happy for our senior who have had the chance to stay with us and building this program where we want it so we could come in here tonight a play a well-coached Earl Smith team, a No. 2 seed, right to the wall,” West Johnston coach Jimmy Williams said. “We had chances to win. I couldn’t be prouder of this bunch and I think it is a good step moving forward.”
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It was a dream start for West Johnston as it held New Hanover to a pair of three-and-outs on their first two possessions of the game. After the first stop, New Hanover gifted West Johnston some great field position with a 1-yard punt.
Starting on the New Hanover 32-yard line, it took West Johnston just three plays to open the scoring. After a pair of solid runs moved the ball to the 13-yard line, junior quarterback Andre Wilson found Michael Holloway open on a skinny post for the 7-0 lead.
The second scoring drive of the game was a more conventional West Johnston drive: one that covered 80 yards on 14 plays and took just under seven minutes off the clock.
On fourth-and-goal on the New Hanover two-yard line, Jake Strickland capped off the drive when he found just enough room behind the right side of the offensive line to get across the goal line for a 14-10 lead that West Johnston took into the half.
On defense, West Johnston dared the bevy of talented skill position players of New Hanover to beat them with the big play as West Johnston went man-to-man against New Hanover’s four and five-man wide receiver sets.
But those big plays came fewer and further between than New Hanover has become accustomed to this season.
“To us, once we got past (Cardinal) Gibbons, I felt like we were playing with house money,” said Williams. “We rolled the dice, felt like we could play man and we did and our kids rose to the occasion.”
Burke Estes manufactured a big play on the first play of the second quarter, however, to give the hosts their first lead of the night. Estes ran the read option, pulled back the ball from the running back, rolled outside and threw to a wide open Lamont Howard who took care of the rest on a 69-yard touchdown pass.
After Christian Torres gave West Johnston the 17-10 lead in the third quarter, New Hanover rallied for two scores in the fourth quarter to finally shake off the visitors.
Estes ran it in from 10 yards out early in the period and then, with 5:18 on the clock, Keegan Santos found the end zone from two yards out.
West Johnston, who were without leading rusher Tony Mack due to an ankle sprain from its opening round win, were led by Wilson and Joseph Lama.
Wilson threw for 94 yards and ran for 71 more while Lama powered his way to 90 yards rushing on 24 carries.
West Johnston will lose just 12 players to graduation: Deandre Blevins, Jowann Holder, Mikia Jacobs, Parker Keys, Delonnta King, Andrew Kurkowski, Josh Lynch, Kyle Nutter, Logan Pope, Jalen Pulley, Jake Strickland and Christian Torres.