Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Carson back Tyler Reynolds sat in a happy locker room and held his thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart.
“I got that first down by this much,” he said. “But I knew I got it.”
Reynolds’ I-won’t-go-down first down on a fourth-and-4 play from the Hickory Ridge 34 with 2:32 remaining effectively ended another SPC struggle on Friday and put a lid on Carson’s tense 21-13 victory against visiting Hickory Ridge.
“The nose guard crashed down on me on the fourth-down play,” Carson guard Cody Rodriguez said. “But then I felt Tyler coming right in behind me. I think we were all scared for just a few seconds that he hadn’t made the first down, but he got it. The ball was right on the line.”
Austin McNeill, Darren Isom and Brandon Sloop had rushing TDs for the Cougars (6-4, 4-3 SPC).
Greg Waslo threw two TD passes to Nate Mullen for the Ragin’ Bulls.
Hickory Ridge plays new-wave football, using lots of formations and rushing every snap like they’ve got a plane to catch. The Bulls (4-6, 3-4) never huddled, and they had the Cougars and the crowd panting for air trying to keep up in the first half.
“We played fast, but not fast enough,” HR coach Marty Paxton said. “We wanted to run a lot more plays than we did, but we turned it over, made too many mistakes.”
Those mistakes included four Carson picks — two by corner Jonathan Rucker and one each by Tre Williams and Anthony McCurry.
“I’ve got to credit our pass-rushers,” Rucker said. “Hickory Ridge has some really fast players, but our pass rush made the quarterback hurry throws. Hickory Ridge has tired a lot of teams out, but we just kept going.”
Old-school football took over after halftime. Sloop may as well have been wearing a leather helmet as he barreled through potential tacklers like a guy from the 1940s who had stepped in a time machine. He carried 32 times for 160 yards and at least 160 bruises.
“It was Sloop’s birthday,” Carson coach Joe Pinyan said. “He said he wanted 30 carries — and a win.”
Waslo’s first TD pass to Mullen put the visitors ahead 6-0, but McNeill’s only pass completion — Brandon Huneycutt made a great catch — led to McNeill’s TD plunge from the 1 and Fox Correll’s PAT for a 7-6 lead.
Mullen beat Carson’s secondary deep to make it 13-7, but Williams’ pick provided the field position the Cougars needed to strike back.
Sloop pounded away, and then Darren Isom broke the 20-yard run that made it 13-13. Correll’s PAT put Carson back ahead the break.
The decisive sequence began when a Hickory Ridge drive was stopped at the Carson 9 when Tyrese Paul broke up a fourth-down pass.
Paxton said he should’ve called for a go-ahead field goal on fourth-and-6, but he had faith in his guys to make a play, and they came very close to making it.
Carson then drove the ball 91 yards to score, a physical grind that peeled almost nine minutes off the clock.
“Our offensive line did a heck of a job,”McNeill said. “In my eyes, they were the MVPs. The backs ran hard, and we just marched it.”
Carson used 16 plays, all runs. The 16th was Sloop’s assault on the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
“It’s so hard from the sideline to watch a drive like that — 3 and 4 yards at a time,” Pinyan said. “It’s so easy to make a mistake, to lose a yard or to get a penalty, but we didn’t make a mistake.”
The Bulls almost responded, but a Patrick Ratliff third-down sack put HR in fourth-and-14, and Rucker made a clutch pick at the Carson goal line and then added a nice runback.
When Reynolds got his first down, it was time to celebrate a win in a league where few wins come easily.
“Our defense played great, but Carson is tough,” Paxton said. “They do a good job of getting 3 or 4 yards a pop and being happy with it. And then they do it again.”