OCEAN — Croatan’s special teams were indeed special Friday in its 26-20 victory over West Carteret in the Bogue Sound Classic.
The Cougars scored their first touchdown of the night thanks to a blocked punt and delivered their last touchdown after recovering an onside kick.
“I preach to them, don’t take a play off on special teams,” Croatan coach Andrew Gurley said. “We have starters on special teams. We’ve got offensive and defensive starters on there.”
Gurley’s squad moved to 4-2 after beating its county rival for just the fourth time in the 21-year history of the series and for the first time since 2015. Croatan enjoyed a complimentary meal at McDonald’s thanks to the win. West fell to 2-4 in a contest that was postponed for a month due to Hurricane Dorian.
The Cougars put up an insurance touchdown with 3:53 to go in the game when quarterback Dustin Hayden ran it in over the left side from 7 yards out to give his side a 26-14 lead. The 11-play, 44-yard drive was set up when Sam Hoy recovered an onside kick that wasn’t an onside kick. Aidan Kimbrell booted it high and short and his team ended up with the ball.
“We had been squibbing it all night and I said let’s try and sky kick it, and it worked out perfect,” Gurley said. “I didn’t mean for it to. He probably kicked it 10 yards shorter than I wanted him to, but it was nice to see the ball bounce our way.”
Croatan took its third and final lead of the night on the previous possession when it went 65 yards on 15 plays to make it 21-14 with 10:20 remaining in the contest after a Colton Sullivan 3-yard plunge. Sullivan led the offensive attack with 129 yards on 20 carries.
The Cougars scored on three straight possessions to open the second half, beginning with a six-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a Sullivan 44-yard dash down the left side to make it 14-7 at the 7:00 mark of the third quarter.
They nearly scored on four straight possessions after going 54 yards on 14 plays on the final drive of the first half that ended with Kimbrell just missing on a 37-yard field goal.
“Croatan kind of got a little better as the night went on,” West coach Daniel Barrow said. “They were able to dominate the line of scrimmage later in the game. They were just surging. That really ended up being the difference.”
The teams went a quarter and a half without finding the end zone before Croatan’s J.J. Pritchett scored from 3 yards out with 5:43 left in the second quarter. He crossed the goal line on the first play after Cam Barnett blocked a West punt.
“That gave us great field position,” Gurley said. “We work on special teams every day. Those guys stepped up big time.”
The Cougars also came up with two other big special teams plays. Sullivan blocked a Patriots field-goal attempt early in the second quarter, and Croatan recovered the ball after it hit a West player following a punt on the first possession of the contest.
Hayden proved to be the catalyst as the game went on, going for 54 yards on 11 carries in the second half after running for 27 yards on six carries in the first.
“We told him in the second quarter to take over,” Gurley said. “There were times on the option he was looking to toss it instead of taking it up field for 15 yards. He did a better job. He can definitely make some plays.”
Hayden finished with 81 yards on 17 carries. He missed part of a drive early in the fourth quarter after suffering a leg injury.
“He’s pretty dynamic,” Barrow said. “He could squeak by you. He was a handful for us.”
Sullivan also got going in the second half, rushing for 94 yards on 10 carries after putting up 35 yards on 10 carries in the first two quarters.
The numbers backed up Barrow’s assessment of the Cougars dominating the line of scrimmage. The home team had 286 yards on 58 carries with Alex Barnes going for 44 yards on 12 carries and Pritchett adding 22 yards on seven carries. If not for Will Bodnar and his eye-popping 30 tackles, Croatan may have put up even bigger numbers.
The Patriots, meanwhile, managed a paltry 22 yards on 24 carries.
West’s Camden Ballou seemed destined for a big night when four of his first seven carries each went for at least nine yards. He finished with 28 yards on 15 carries.
“Cam got going real early on ISOs, going downhill, but they kept seven players in the box, no matter what,” Barrow said. “We spread it out, and they kept seven players in the box. They weren’t going to let us run the ball. We had to pass it to win it.”
Walker Gladwell led the Croatan defensive effort with 6.5 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Connor McLeod, Jaden Cooper and Chase Davis chipped in with 3.5 tackles apiece. Andrew Mendolia and Evan King each had an interception as the Patriots took to the air to move the ball.
Kel Jones went 10-of-15 for 102 yards and two touchdowns, hitting Kobi Owen on a 24-yard score to put the team on the board for the first time with 4:05 to go in the second quarter. He connected with C.J. Rocci with 9.2 seconds left in the game on a 7-yard scoring toss.
Rocci led his team with 56 yards on six catches.
Jaiden Rittenhouse went 4-of-10 for 95 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He found Israel Long alone in the right corner of the end zone at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter. Long had 49 yards on five catches.
“They took the run away and weren’t going to allow Cam to run, so that put it on the quarterback’s shoulders,” Barrow said. “And they answered. I was pretty impressed with the way they played. That is a positive going forward. I’m pleased with their progression.”
Each team had two turnovers – Croatan lost two fumbles – and both sides struggled with penalties. The Cougars had 12 penalties for 103 yards, while the Patriots had seven penalties for 59 yards.
Croatan will next host Dixon (3-3) as it returns to 1A/2A Coastal 8 Conference play. Both teams are 1-1 in the league with wins versus Lejeune and losses to Southwest Onslow. West will begin 3A Coastal Conference play at home versus Havelock (4-1).