The Bulldogs advanced to next Saturday’s Division 6 final by limiting Thomas Dale to three second-half possessions, which totaled 2 minutes, 39 seconds. The other 211/2 minutes of the half belonged to host Hylton’s offense in a 22-8 victory Saturday.
“I don’t think we had the ball for 30 plays,” Thomas Dale coach Vic Williams said. “It’s hard to get any running game going, it’s hard to get anything going.”
Williams’ educated guess was close — his team ran 35 plays, compared to 61 for Hylton. In the second half, the difference was 37-12.
Junior defensive back Deon Butler picked off a pass on Dale’s lone third-quarter possession. Then, on the Knights’ two chances in the final period, they had to punt and they lost a fumble, which was caused and recovered by Hylton junior linebacker Endor Cooper.
As the Hylton offense controlled the ball, the defense rested on the job it did in the first half against Dale’s star tailback, Nick Fleming. A 1,600-yard rusher who gained 155 yards in a win over Hylton in the 2001 state semifinals, Fleming gained 11 yards on eight carries Saturday.
By the time the Bulldogs took a 22-8 lead with 4:06 left in the third quarter, Fleming had been all but taken out of the game. His longest run Saturday was for five yards.
Earlier in the week, Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino compared the 5-foot-8 Fleming’s running style to that of Roland Hilliard, the Cedar Run District offensive player of the year from Osbourn Park. Hilliard gained 94 yards on 19 carries in OP’s 27-10 loss to Hylton in the regional final. Though Hilliard had a decent showing in his second meeting against this year’s Hylton team, Fleming struggled against the Bulldogs.
“We had to prepare for him a lot because when he hits the gap, he just goes,” Hylton senior defensive back Jerome Quinata said. “We had all the gaps secured.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ offensive line was opening up holes of its own. Two-way all-Cardinal District lineman Jono Petrovitch, a senior who’s one of the vocal leaders on this year’s team, wound up playing far more left guard than defensive end.
“Basically everything was working [in the second half],” Petrovitch said. “In the first half, we came out and kind of stumbled with mistakes and penalties. But the way our offensive line and running back blocked in the second half, you could tell we just wanted it more.”
On the left side of the line, Petrovitch plays next to tackle Thomas VanMeter. Sean Monts plays center, while Demarcus Murray and Jarron Tillman anchor the right side.
“They had different defenses running at us, but we had a better idea of where they were going and where they were slanting in the second half,” said Murray, a junior right guard.
Seven different Bulldogs carried the ball by halftime. The same seven — plus one more — carried in the second half. Senior quarterback Jeff Overton had 46 yards at the half, and finished with 119.
While the offense sustained possessions in the second half, the defense could take a vacation.
“We only played one defensive series that whole third quarter,” senior defensive lineman R.J. Dawson said. “The offense was playing great and making big plays, which really made life easier for us. And after that one fluke play [a 61-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the game for Thomas Dale], our defense really held them, too.”