By Jamie Combs
While Hampton kept climbing through the window of opportunity, Sullivan East was trapped in a revolving door of defensive deficiency.
Proving close to unstoppable on the offensive side of the football, the Bulldogs outgunned the Patriots for a 60-35 victory at J.C. Campbell Stadium on Friday night.
“We had somewhat of a long practice on Wednesday,” said Hampton coach Mike Lunsford. “It went about till dark. I told them we were going to do it till we got it right. I told them they had an opportunity to do it right the first time or the 50th. We were here for 31âÑ2 hours, and it was all hitting. We hit all week; we worked hard.
“The kids answered the bell and they answered the challenge. They stepped it up — they didn’t lay down and quit.”
Ranked No. 4 in Class 2A, the unbeaten Bulldogs (7-0) put up 489 yards of offense against East (5-2) — the No. 10-rated squad in 4A.
Powerhouse Justin Adkins led a 403-yard ground attack with 185 yards on 22 carries.
“The coaches practiced us really good, and I think that right there helped us out a whole lot,” said Adkins, who ran for three touchdowns. “I just wanted to play ball and add something to my line. Everybody blocked well in powering (the football) and everything.”
Phillip Waters amassed 217 all-purpose yards — 136 on the ground (17 carries) — with a trio of scores, and Lane Smith and Eddie Olvera stamped their initials on two TDs during the key stage of the game.
“This was a great, great win,” Olvera said. “We’ve been working so hard this week, harder than any other week. We knew this was going to be a tough game, and we just came out and executed. Everyone played hard — the line, our running backs were running hard, everything.”
Down 28-21 in the second quarter, the Patriots were operating from Hampton’s 25 when Tyler Chambers snatched a Daniel Truett option pitch right out of the air and returned the ball to the 50-yard line. Four plays later, Smith passed to Olvera for a 39-yard TD 42.1 seconds before halftime.
“Chambers picking off that option was probably the biggest play of the game,” Lunsford said. “It turned the game.”
Hampton’s first-half work, however, wasn’t finished as Tyler Trusler grabbed a midfield interception and moved to the East 33. From that spot, Smith and Olvera connected on another score with 16 ticks still to go.
“I was talking to the coaches,” Smith said, “and they were telling me to read off the safety there and get (Olvera) the ball so he could get in and try to put the nail in the coffin there before halftime — and seal the deal.”
The Bulldogs were up 41-21 at intermission.
“We played a good football team,” said Patriots coach Mike Locke. “We made a lot of mistakes, very costly at times. If this was a tennis match, we needed to hold serve — and we didn’t at times. They got up on us there. If I could have a minute and 30 seconds back in the second quarter, I don’t know what the outcome is — but I think we’re a little bit closer there. It got away from us.”
Olvera was making his return — outside of kicking and punting — from a Week-2 injury.
“Honestly, I didn’t see it coming tonight,” Olvera said of his impact on the outcome. “I was just as surprised as anyone else. I was just trying to play my hardest on my first game back. I love my teammates because they’ve supported me throughout.”
The tight end caught all three of his quarterback’s completions for 86 yards.
“He’s a big part of our team and we’ve missed him the last five weeks,” Smith said of Olvera “He’s a big asset to our offense and I’m really glad to have him back. He helps me out a lot, too.”
An 18-yard TD run by Austin Glover pulled East back within two scores (41-28) with 4:29 left in the third stanza, but Hampton countered with a five-play, 61-yard drive that Waters capped with a 13-yard sweep to paydirt.
The Bulldogs journeyed 74 yards on five plays the next time they got the ball. Adkins opened the series with a 37-yard jaunt, and closed it out with a 12-yard romp to the end zone.
“Adkins was a load tonight,” Lunsford said. “All week, I told him we couldn’t win this game without him being a man. He was a man and he lowered the boom on them. They were having a hard time even when they were tackling him.”
With 771 yards on the season, Adkins has a strong chance to give Hampton a second 1,000-yard rusher. Waters has 1,468 on the year.
“I’d love to have over a thousand, but I can’t do it alone,” Adkins said.
Trusler bulled to a 5-yard touchdown about midway through the final period, and Olvera’s sixth extra point (in six attempts) lifted the Bulldogs to a 60-28 advantage. The Patriots’ Tanner Perry scored from 2 yards away with 2:08 to go.
“We need to tackle better — that’s obvious — but we kept fighting and kept battling,” Locke said. “Hopefully, we can learn from this and see a lot of things on film that we can get better from.”
The opening quarter was about as wild as it can get, with the teams battling to a 21-21 tie. Less than 30 seconds into the game, Waters had returned the opening kick 81 yards for a TD — and Glover had scored on a 98-yard kickoff return.
From there, Adkins wrapped scoring runs of 6 and 45 yards around a Truett 68-yard TD scamper. Rocky Gragg caught a 22-yard score from Truett, and his two-point conversion catch evened things up.
Hampton took the lead for good on a 13-yard gallop by Waters at the 8:29 mark of the second period.
The contest had the feel of a playoff or crucial conference affair.
“(Assistant coach) Michael (Lunsford) looked at me,” Mike Lunsford said, “and he said, ‘I’ll be honest, Dad. I’ve not been around a game like that since you got kicked out over at Cherokee (while coaching Cloudland).’ I said, ‘I got to watch this one and everything.’ He said the atmosphere tonight was unbelievable.
“When you’ve got a 5-1 4A school against a 6-0 2A school, it’s a big game for them and a big game for us. And with the playoff seeds the way they are, it’s just like a conference game.”
Trusler, Taylor Edwards and Mark Ailport each totaled eight tackles for the winners, with Smith and Boo Dugger collecting six stops apiece. Trusler also recovered a fumble.
Aided by a 48-yard punt return and rushing 10 times for 61 yards, Glover topped the Pats with 230 all-purpose yards. Truett passed for 89 yards and rushed for 73 (10 attempts) as the Patriots accumulated 295 yards from scrimmage.