As the victories have piled up for the Bunn football team this season, most observers would credit the Wildcats’ high-scoring offense as the catalyst behind the team’s success.
And why not? Bunn has scored 40 or more points in all but two games this season, and on seven of those occasions the Wildcats surpassed the 50-point mark with a season-high 77 coming in a 40-point rout of Nash Central on Sept. 25.
But if Bunn is going continue on its trek toward the first N.C. High School Athletic Association title in program history, it is also going to need to rely on its defense.
On Friday against East Duplin, it did just that, the Wildcats’ defense coming up with several big plays late in a 36-29 victory in advancing to the 2AA East regional final for the first time since 2005.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Second-seeded Bunn (12-2) will host fourth-seeded Clinton (11-2) on Friday for the opportunity to play for the 2AA state title on Dec. 12 at North Carolina State.
“Everybody always says offense wins games, but defense wins championships,” said Bunn senior defensive lineman Trevor Gupton, one of the defensive standouts in the win over East Duplin. “A good defense will trump a good offense, so each week we raise the bar more and more to get better.”
It has been a work in progress at times, though.
While the offense coming into this season returned considerable talent from a year ago with 10 seniors – among them running back Tevin Perry – the defense consisted of only a handful of veterans.
Not that Bunn hasn’t had its share of good defensive performances this season. Four times it has limited opponents to single-digit scoring outputs.
However, Bunn coach David Howle knew a special effort was going to be needed from his defense against East Duplin.
“We faced the Wing-T (offense) in practice, we run it but I hate playing against it,” Howle said. “I felt like our defense had to step up, and they did in crunch time.”
Bunn’s defense limited East Duplin running backs Chris Benson and Tyran Outlaw – both 1,000-yard rushers – to a reasonable 139 yards combined. And twice, with the game’s outcome still very much undecided, Bunn’s defense came up with a pair of big fourth-quarter stops.
The first of those came with the Panthers nursing a one-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Bunn’s defense stopping East Duplin a yard short of a first down near midfield with just over four minutes remaining to force a punt.
After Bunn got the go-ahead touchdown from Perry with just over a minute remaining, its defense stopped a potential tying or winning score when it forced an East Duplin incompletion from the 26 as time expired.
“The defense, we pushed hard, did the work and listened to the coaches,” senior defensive lineman Joseph Price said. “We knew this one was going to be on us and that we had to step up big time.”
That will be the case again against Clinton, as Bunn’s offense is sure to be tested by a squad that has allowed more than 20 points only two times this season.
“Our defense has been bending but not breaking, but the kids have been getting better,” Howle said. “It’s going to take a great effort (against Clinton).”
NCHSAA football playoff pairings
All times are 7:30 p.m.
1-Middle Creek vs 6-Page
1-East Forsyth vs 6-Mallard Creek
2-New Hanover vs 5. J.H. Rose
1-Dudley vs 3-Charlotte Catholic
3-Southern Durham vs 13-Northern Guilford
1-Concord vs 2-Crest
1-Eastern Alamance vs 3-Rocky Mount
2-South Point vs 8-Kings Mountain
2-Bunn vs 4-Clinton
1-Monroe vs 2-East Lincoln
1-Kinston vs 2-SouthWest Edgecombe
1-Shelby vs 6-Lincolnton
1-Wallace-Rose Hill vs 3-James Kenan
4-Mitchell County vs 10-Walkertown
1-Plymouth vs 2-Southside
1-Community School of Davidson vs 2-Robbinsville