PINEY GREEN — Croatan opened its football season with a 19-2 victory over White Oak on the road.
The Cougars jumped out to a 19-0 lead before allowing a safety in the fourth quarter. The victory was a well-rounded one with preliminary stats provided by Croatan painting a picture of efficient offense and shut-down defense.
“The defense played well,” Croatan coach Andrew Gurley said. “We had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. There were a few key takeaways in two interceptions and a fumble recovery. They answered the call all night.”
Dustin Hayden and Eric King each picked off a pass, while Walker Gladwell led the unit with seven solo tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Croatan scored 13 points in the second quarter, beginning with a blocked White Oak punt that sailed out of the Vikings end zone for a Cougar safety. The Croatan offense scored on the next possession off a 9-yard run from J.J. Pritchett. The junior finished the night with 46 yards on 11 carries.
The Cougars padded their lead with an Aidan Kimbrell 28-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
“We had great position all night,” Gurley said. “They punted a handful of times and couldn’t really pin us. We had a short field often, and we did what we had to do. It was a hard-fought win.”
The second touchdown of the night came in the third quarter with quarterback Major Hawkins tucking the ball and crossing the goal line on a 1-yard rush. The senior signal-caller finished 2-of-6 from the pocket for 21 yards. He completed one pass for 12 yards to Andrew Mendolia and another for 9 yards to Alex Barnes.
The Cougars’ only blemish of the night occurred directly after a standout defensive play. Hayden intercepted a White Oak pass 15 yards in front of his own end zone. The Croatan offense, backed up close to the goal line, coughed up possession and allowed a safety midway through the final quarter.
“We were backed up and tried to get some breathing room,” Gurley said. “We pitched it outside, and it got dropped in the end zone. It ended up working out because it was better than (White Oak) scoring a touchdown there.”
Croatan’s leading rusher on the night was Barnes with 14 carries for 75 yards. Colton Sullivan tallied 20 yards on two rushes, Walker Gladwell had two carries for 16 yards, and Keegan Frandson carried once for a 15-yard gain.
White Oak’s leading rusher was Khaliq Burrell with 10 carries for 59 yards. Viking quarterback Sidney Lee completed three of his 11 passes for 45 yards. The Vikings punted four times for a 9-yard average.
“We had to earn it,” Gurley said. “I couldn’t tell a whole lot about White Oak from the scrimmage tape, but they definitely look the part. They’re a good-looking football team. They have some athletes. This win was a great way to start for us.”
Croatan will be at Swansboro on Friday for the annual Ben & Jerry’s Bowl. The winner of the Highway 24 rivalry will enjoy ice cream provided by game sponsor Ben & Jerry’s of Emerald Isle after the contest.
White Oak will be at Richlands on Friday.