Hampton rallies from 20-point deficit to upend Avery County

Published 12:20 am Saturday, September 3, 2022

By Jamie Shell | editor@averyjournal.com
NEWLAND, NC – The top-ranked Hampton Bulldogs faced a bushel of adversity in its non-conference tilt Friday night, Sept. 2, against the Vikings of Avery County (NC) High School. Trailing 20-0 late in the second quarter, a late turnover and touchdown provided needed momentum, while the combination of defensive halftime adjustments and hard-nosed running of the football propelled the Bulldogs to score the game’s final 28 points. Hampton’s defense shut out the Vikings over the final two quarters to emerge victorious by a 36-27 final score at MacDonald Stadium.
The Vikings could do little wrong over the first two quarters, dominating play on both sides of the football in building a first-half cushion. HHS had little success slowing down a Vikings offense and difficulty untracking its own running game in the first half, but found its footing by continuing to rely on its bread-and-butter rushing attack, coupled with bowing its defensive neck on several occasions through the second half, to escape Newland with the come-from-behind win.
Running back Levi Lunsford led the Bulldogs ground assault with 170 yards on 26 carries, with four touchdowns. Johnathan Greenwell also topped the 100-yard plateau, toting the ball nine times for 107 yards with a touchdown. Brody Hicks added 50 yards on seven carries. Quarterback Chance Point completed 2-of-6 passes for 15 yards.
Avery County was led by junior quarterback Will Stanford, who ran for 118 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns, and completed 12-of-24 passing for 170 yards, with a pair of touchdowns, while the Bulldogs picked Stanford off on two occasions.
The Vikings offense, which had been struggling to move the football through its first two games in 2022, failing to score its first points of the season until the final drive of last week’s loss to Wilkes Central, came alive early and often with four first-half touchdown drives. Avery broke the ice on the game’s opening possession, as an 8-yard touchdown pass from Stanford to wide receiver Lukas Hughes capped a 10-play, 76-yard drive and put Avery ahead 7-0 only 2:48 into the contest.
Hampton’s lethal running attack was stymied on its first two possessions by an inspired Vikings defense, forcing a pair of punts. The Vikings, meanwhile, continued to chew up yardage on offense. Stanford connected with wide receiver Logan Gilliam on a 29-yard touchdown strike to increase the Avery lead to 14-0 with 4:13 to play in the opening stanza, then answered the second of HHS’s two consecutive punts with a 6-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a Stanford 17-yard scamper to paydirt. The Bulldogs special teams unit blocked the extra point kick, however, to leave the Vikings with a 20-0 lead with 9:56 remaining before halftime.
In the latter stages of the second quarter, Avery appeared poised to further extend its lead, but Hampton senior linebacker Johnathan Greenwell picked off a Stanford pass and galloped 71 yards to the Avery 5-yard line. Four plays later, Lunsford scored on a 3-yard plunge to put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard. Lunsford added a two-point conversion run to cut Avery’s lead to 20-8 with 1:07 to play prior to the intermission.
Rather than resting on its laurels, the quick-strike Vikings offense immediately answered on its next offensive play, as Stanford broke containment and darted 63 yards to the end zone, staking Avery to a 27-8 lead at the half.
The Vikings defense was the story of the opening two stanzas, as Hampton’s punishing ground game was held to just 37 first-half rushing yards and 44 yards in total offense, while the Vikings racked up 277 first-half offensive yards.
Hampton’s fortunes turned from bad to worse to open the third quarter, when the Bulldogs fumbled and turned over the football on the first play of the period. The HHS defense responded, however, by forcing a turnover as Elijah McKinney picked off the Viking signal caller to quell the ensuing Avery drive. Hampton’s running game got untracked, following the change of possession with a 12-play, 78-yard march, culminating in a Lunsford 3-yard scoring run. Chance Point pushed across the two-point conversion to draw the Bulldogs to within 27-16 with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Hampton’s defense forced the Vikings into a three-and-out as the fourth quarter began, while the offense went back to work. The Bulldogs drove 62 yards over 10 plays, converting on both a third down and fourth-down conversion during the drive, finding the end zone when Lunsford scored on a five-yard rush. Lunsford added a two-point-conversion run to draw Hampton within a field goal at 27-24 with 8:01 to play in the game.
Needing momentum to turn its way, the Vikings found little daylight on its next offensive series, as the Hampton defense again limited Avery to a three-and-out deep in Viking territory. Two plays after the punt gave the football back to the offense, the Bulldogs offensive line broke a hole open for Greenwell, who galloped 64 yards to the end zone with 5:54 on the clock. Hampton’s two-point try failed, but the Bulldogs held its first lead of the night at 30-27.
Playing from behind for the first time, Avery looked to the air to try to regain its success from the first half of the game. The Bulldogs refused to yield, however, as a Shayden Oliver sack pinned Avery into a third-and-long situation, eventually leading to another Viking punt.
Hampton closed the door on the victory for good with its final possession of the game, a 7-play, 59-yard march, all running plays, which ate up all but 23 seconds of the remaining time on the fourth-quarter clock, capped by a Lunsford 27-yard touchdown tote to put the finishing touch on the Bulldog win.
Hampton gained 328 yards on 60 plays, with 54 rushes for 313 yards. Avery gained 285 yards on 48 plays. Both teams were penalized seven times for the game.
Dominique Burleson and Elijah McKinney led the HHS defense with seven tackles apiece, while Avery’s duo of Landon Hughes and Asher Hartzog recorded 14 tackles apiece to lead the Vikings. Hampton improves to 3-0 on the season, while Avery falls to 0-3. The Bulldogs return home to face county rival Cloudland at JC Campbell Stadium next Friday night.

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