Second half rally propels Hampton past Polk County

Published 10:07 am Monday, November 6, 2023

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For the second straight week, the Hampton Bulldogs trailed at the half. And for the second straight week, the Bulldogs rallied to victory. On Friday night at JC Campbell Stadium, the ‘Dogs rode the legs of junior RB Dominique Burleson to a 36-19 win over Polk County in the opening round of the TSSAA playoffs.

Burleson rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the win for Hampton (9-2 overall).

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J.J. McElyea recovered a fumble early in the second half, which led to a Hampton touchdown that enabled the Bulldogs to take control of the contest.

“We weren’t thinking of an on-side kick, but we wanted to kick away from (McWilliams) because he is a heck of a football player,” Bulldogs head coach Michael Lunsford said. “We kind of missed the kick and squibbed it and JJ came up with the ball.”

First quarter proves an even match

Polk County struck first when Damien McWilliams returned a Hampton punt 49 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. The ‘Dogs regrouped and went on a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive capped off by a nine-yard run from senior QB Dylan Trivett. Burleson scored the two-point conversion to give the ‘Dogs an 8-7 lead.

Second quarter sees Wildcats gain momentum

McWilliams capped off a 65-yard drive for Polk County with a 20-yard touchdown scamper that gave Polk a 13-8 lead when the two-point pass failed. Hampton struck right back with Burleson scoring from two yards out to cap off a 54-yard drive to make it a 14-13 contest.

The Wildcats (4-7 overall) came right back with a strong run attack led by fullback T.J. Hawkins who bolted 35 yards to a touchdown that staked Polk to a 19-14 halftime advantage.

McElyea recovers first fumble

Hampton opened the second half with a 12-play, 77-yard drive capped off by a one-yard Burleson plunge to give the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead. The ‘Dogs got a break when McWilliams took the ball from Burleson and raced 63 yards to an apparent touchdown that was called back on a defensive penalty for a facemask violation.

On the ensuing kickoff, McElyea raced to the loose ball and recovered on the 46-yard line.

“When I saw the ball on the ground my only thought was to get on the ball,” McElyea said. “If the ball is loose, I am doing my best to get to it. This was a huge win for us and when we were losing at halftime it turned my stomach.”

Burleson cashed in the turnover with a six-yard scoring run to stake the ‘Dogs to a 30-19 lead as Hampton was now in control of the contest. Polk now abandoned the run game but QB Cade Brewer could not find his receivers finishing six-for-14 passing for 56 yards.

Fourth quarter sees Hampton finish the job

Trivett scored his second touchdown of the game to cap off a 71-yard drive with a one-yard run to make it a 36-19 game. McElyea recovered his second fumble as Hawkins put the ball on the ground on the Wildcats next possession and Hampton was able to hold off Polk County the rest of the way.

“What I told the guys at halftime was in the playoffs, we have to find a way to improve every week,” Lunsford said. “We have been in the playoffs many times here and the thing all those teams have in common is that we improved every week.”

The Bulldogs return next week for a clash with Bledsoe County, who took a 42-21 win over South Greene.

Hampton 36-19

Polk Co 7 12 0 0 – 19

Hampton 8 6 16 6 – 36

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

P – McWilliams 49 punt return (Brock kick) 6:33

H – Trivett 9 run (Burleson run) 3:30

Second Quarter

P – McWilliams 20 run (pass failed) 10:44

H – Burleson 2 run (run failed) 7:19

P – Hawkins 35 run (run failed) 3:42

Third Quarter

H – Burleson 1 run (Burleson run) 6:04

H – Burleson 6 run (Burleson run) :51

Fourth Quarter

H – Trivett 1 run (pass failed) 8:30

Individual Statistics


P – Hawkins 8-78, McWilliams 8-55, Holden 6-7, Lawson 2-6. H – Burleson 29-214, Trivett 9- 38, Carrico 3-14, Townsend 2-13.


P – Brewer 6-14, 56 yds. 0 TD, 0 int. H – Trivett 5-8, 100 yds. 0 TD, 0 int.


P – Adams 3-19, McWilliams 1-10, Holden 1-13, Lanning 1-14. H – McKinney 2-42, McElyea 1- 27, Carrico 1-31