MOREHEAD CITY — Some had the White Oak football team as the 3A Coastal Conference favorite coming into the Monday night game at West Carteret.
The Vikings certainly didn’t look like it after the Patriots got through with them.
West won 35-22 in a homecoming game that took it one step closer toward a goal that coaches and players only talk about in hushed tones – the first conference title since 1964.
At 2-0 in league play and 4-2 overall, the Patriots have Richlands (0-5), Swansboro (3-3) and Croatan (3-4) in the way of its appearance in the program’s record book.
The Patriots are on their first win streak of the season – three games going back to a 33-0 shutout of East Carteret in the Mullet Bucket – but head coach Daniel Barrow says his team still hasn’t peaked with three weeks to go in the regular season.
“There’s still lots of room to grow,” he said. “We are farther along than where we were, but we still have a long way to go. This team has a lot of potential and capabilities it hasn’t shown. As long as we continue to take a step forward every game like we have, we’ll be OK.”
White Oak (5-1 overall, 1-1 conference) looked strong coming into the game after beating Croatan 36-20 last week. The latest RPI ratings from the N.C. High School Athletic Association had White Oak listed at No. 21 and West at No. 28 in the 3A east division.
The Vikings looked briefly like more than paper tigers on the opening kickoff when Aleni Mageo took the return 90 yards to the house. By halftime, though, the Patriots had taken the pluck out of the visitors with a handful of turnovers and three straight touchdowns en route to a 21-6 lead.
Injuries played a big role early in the game for West. Receivers Spencer Maxwell exited the game with a concussion in the first quarter, while Justice Dadeel, Adam Cummings, Shane Hester and Brian Garner, among others, battled minor injuries and crippling cramps.
“Everyone was exhausted and cramping,” Barrow said. “At halftime, there was bodies laid out and people were throwing up. We were wondering how we were going to stand up and respond, because we knew (the Vikings) were going to come out swinging.”
West had all the momentum in the world when it went into the locker room at halftime. By the time they made it back onto the field, the momentum felt fragile. There was a tenseness on the sideline, an anxiety only made worse when White Oak’s Jmon Hawkins intercepted Jamarion Montford. That set up a quick 25-yard drive ending in a 7-yard run from Quincy Pearson to cut the lead to one score after he converted the 2-point conversion.
The Patriots went three-and-out on their next possession, and the game felt like it might get away for good. Then, on a long drive for White Oak, the defense forced back-to-back losses of 5 yards. The ensuing third-and-20 pass from quarterback Sidney Lee was plucked in the end zone by Cummings, who had just reentered the game after cramping up earlier in the quarter.
The Vikings made more mistakes the other way, committing two helmet-to-helmet personal fouls to help West drive down the field until Hester scored on a 36-yard run. On the next White Oak drive, the offense fumbled on a fourth-down snap, and Keegan Callahan pounced on the ball for a fresh set of Patriot downs.
West needed a cementing play, something to drive the final nail in the game and allow the team to breathe easy again. Hester delivered, rumbling for a 48-yard gain on the second play of the drive. He shook off would-be tacklers all the way to the end zone for his third score of the night.
The senior, who hadn’t taken an offensive snap all season, took advantage of an improvisational Wildcat package that saw him take six direct snaps in the second half to rush for a career-high 110 yards. His three touchdowns were also his first of the season and a career first for the linebacker.
“He’s doesn’t get a ton of carries, but that may change,” Barrow said. “We haven’t implemented that scheme much this year, but we made the switch tonight out of necessity. A lot of our starting skill guys were out. Our Wildcat formation is a lot of linebackers and defensive ends, so we were able to maintain some offensive movement. Little did we know, Shane was ready to bust some runs.”
White Oak scored one more touchdown, a 6-yard run from Lee, late in the fourth quarter to give the game its final score.
Lee had a tough night at the office against the West defense. The senior did rush for 99 yards on 21 carries (4.7-yard average), but he threw an abysmal 2-of-9 from the pocket with four passes picked off.
He also fumbled in the first quarter, allowing Rufino Miranda to scoop up the loose ball and set his team up at the Viking 9-yard line. West signal-caller Montford took advantage of the short field and hit Dadeel on a 6-yard slant that the receiver had to stretch out to catch in the end zone.
Montford finished the night 11-of-24 from the pocket with 166 passing yards. He also rushed for 24 yards on 10 carries.
Two possessions after Dadeel’s touchdown catch on a three-play drive, the Patriots marched for another score on 16 plays over 78 yards. Barrow rolled the dice on fourth-and-1, needing just a short run to move the chains, but instead, Hester rumbled for 13 yards for a first down and then some. The long drive ended with a bit of trickery that had Miller connecting with Shane Graves in the end zone for a touchdown pass.
Miller was a contributor in every facet of the win, rushing for 14 yards, catching three passes for 81 yards, throwing the touchdown to Graves and intercepting Lee.
The problems for the White Oak offense continued with a fumble on the second play of the next drive. Hester stripped the ball and held on to it for the change of possession. After passes of 14, 9 and 23 yards from Montford, Hester finished the job on first-and-goal with a 6-yard touchdown for his first jog across the goal line.
A short kickoff and a start from the 50-yard line gave White Oak one more scoring opportunity before halftime, but Dadeel jumped the route on third down from the 23 for his team’s third interception of the night. Lee started the game 0-for-7 with four interceptions before he made two completions to finish the game.
“I thought defense would be a big part of this game,” Barrow said. “Our goal was to not let them get on a roll or get some momentum. They’re so physical, and they’re really good at what they do. I felt like if they were allowed to get chunk yardage, they’d be tough to stop. But we came in there and punched them in the mouth and that made a huge difference.”
West finished the night with a sizable advantage in total yards, tallying 378 to 242 for the visitors. After Lee, White Oak’s only other statistical standout was Pearson with 91 rushing yards. Both teams were heavily penalized – White Oak 12 times for 122 yards and West eight times for 96 yards.
West will hit the road on Friday to face Richlands (0-5, 0-2).
White Oak will travel to Dixon (1-4, 0-2) on Friday.
Here are results of the game:
White Oak........................................ 6 0 8 8 - 22
West Carteret.................................. 7 14 7 7 - 35
White Oak West Carteret
16 First Downs 15
38-204 Rushes-yards 30-191
2-9-4 Passing 12-25-1
38 Passing yards 187
242 Total yards 378
2-2 Fumbles-lost 2-1
0-0 Punts 3-31.3
12-122 Penalties-yards 8-96
WOak – Mageo 90 kickoff return (Run failed), 11:44, 1st.
WCart – Dadeel 6 pass from Montford (Tatalovich kick), 4:37, 1st.
WCart – Graves 21 pass from Miller (Tatalovich kick), 5:32, 2nd.
WCart – Hester 6 run (Tatalovich kick), 3:04, 2nd.
WOak – Pearson 7 run (Pearson run), 7:02, 3rd.
WCart – Hester 36 run (Tatalovich kick), 0:24, 3rd.
WCart – Hester 48 run (Tatalovich kick), 8:12, 4th.
WOak – Lee 6 run (Pearson run), 5:49, 4th.
RUSHING: White Oak – Lee 21-99, Pearson 10-91, Bell 5-18, Mageo 1-1, Ellison 1-(-)5; West Carteret – Hester 8-110, Montford 10-24, Maxwell 2-22, Mason 7-22, Miller 2-14, Garner 1(-)1.
PASSING: White Oak – Lee 2-9-4-38; West Carteret – Miller 1-1-0-21, Montford 11-24-1-166.
RECEIVING: White Oak – Hester 1-30, Bell 1-24; West Carteret – Miller 3-81, Mason 5-50, Graves 1-21, Dadeel 2-16, Maxwell 1-15, Callahan 1-4.