By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville Bearcats surged into round three of football playoffs and a match with record-setting receiver Sage Surrett, by demolishing Surry Central 73-28 on the road Friday with their own record aerial show.
The third-seeded Cats (10-3) next play at 2A West top-seeded Lincolnton (12-1) this Friday, Dec. 2. This may prove HHS’ toughest challenge but also a de facto state title clash, in the quest for its first football state title since 1968 and ’69.Budding standout Bud Williford threw for nearly 500 yards (at 498), in head coach Jim Sosebee’s spread attack. He set a HHS record by notching seven of the 10 HHS touchdowns Friday. The junior has thrown for 3,144 yards, and registered 35 touchdowns throwing and running.The redhead was red hot from the get-go. He completed his first six passes, 10 of his first 11, and 27 of 35 overall. He rebounded a week after throwing three first-half interceptions when as Sosebee said “we got playoff jitters out of the way.” He is also in double digits in rushing TDs.
Swift receiver Tykel Landrum scored six times on pass plays. He set school marks with 14 catches for 364 yards in this contest. The junior leads all WNC receivers with 1,608 yards in this season. He has 20 receiving TDs. He caught a 50-yard TD bomb Friday, and got loose for scoring runs including for 36, 30 and 21 yards.“It feels really good to go on the road and get the big win,” Landrum told The Tribune. “All the hard work pays off. We practiced hard all week, to be ready for this game. We showed up confident, and ready to play.”He stepped back into the spotlight, after senior Leon Cooks and super soph runner Ty’rese Hunt shined at home last week. Cooks had over 200 scrimmage yards in the 38-35 first-round win, over Lexington Senior. He has over 45 catches, gains over 20 yards per catch, is nearing 1,000 receiving yards, has over 300 rushing yards, and is the short returner on squib kicks designed to avoid Landrum and Demetrius Smith. Cooks has caught 11 TD passes. Cole Cochran like Cooks is a big target. Smith, who has over 30 catches, and Nasir Artis add speed for the “Aircat” Bearcats.Hunt is nearing 1,000 rushing yards at 923, after gaining 116 yards (6.8 ypc.) on 17 carries. He reached 115 yards in both playoff games thus far. Hunt averages a TD per game and scored twice Friday.Coach Sosebee said HHS has improved pass protection which gives Williford more time to read defenses, stay calm and get into the flow of the play. “He hasn’t had to run for his life.” He is calmer, deeper into his first varsity year at the helm. “Williford is athletic, with smoother mechanics of weight-shifting and throwing on the run. “We drill that all the time,” Sosebee said.HHS led the Eagles (11-2) by 45-7 at halftime, scoring on all seven possessions in the first half and rolling to a 45-point victory. Drew Eudy drilled a 31-yard field goal; he is a pivotal weapon for nail-biting finishes.
All facets played well, versatile star Landrum noted. “The defense played really well. We did our job the whole game, not letting their offense do too much.”
Lincolnton Wolves have averaged 60 points and the Bearcats 54, in their last three games. The Wolves beat Eastern Randolph 43-14. The HHS-LHS victor faces the winner of Reidsville and North Rowan, on Dec. 9 for the West Region title in a state semifinal contest.Reidsville crushed HHS arch rival Mountain Heritage 45-16 Friday. The Bearcats are the only other team to beat the Cougars. North Rowan won a 27-21 see-saw game at Brevard, outdoing star quarterback Tanner Ellenberger. The final four out East are Northeastern, South Columbia, East Bladen and John A. Holmes. The state title game is on Saturday, Dec. 17.
The HHS-LHS clash looms as a shootout between 3,000-yard passers, superstar receivers and workhorse backs. Cordell Littlejohn, a lanky 6-foot-4, 185-pound junior and third-year starter, has thrown for 3,144 yards in 2016. The vaunted HHS defensive line must pressure him, to help coverage.
His favorite target is all-state talent Sage Surratt (6-4, 210). Harvard-bound Surratt entered his senior year already the state’s all-time reception leader, and now has 404 receptions. He destroyed Mohamed Massaquoi’s state career mark for yardage. Surrett has 6,319 in four years — with 1,777 this year. He is closing in on the seasonal record of Massaquoi (1,834) in ’04, ahead of Hakeem Nicks (1,819 in ’05) and HHS star Cole Cleary (1,818 in ’14). Surratt is within one TD of former Georgia Bulldog Massaquoi’s N.C. prep career mark of 76 receiving scores.
Surratt has caught 109 passes with 23 (nearly one in five) for TDs. He caught five TD passes in one game, and three in two of the last three games. He caught 20 passes in one game. He reached 200 yards three times and 296 once, on his way to er 1,700 yards. He returns punts, and leads LHS with 99 tackles.
He transferred this summer from East Lincoln, where he sizzled catching passes of his QB brother Chazz who is now at UNC. Chazz is the N.C. all-time leader in total offense and TD responsibility.
Lincolnton 6-3 senior Langdon Givens adds 14 TDs (two last week) and 854 yards (20 ypc.) on 43 catches. Going against two tall receivers is a steep challenge, Sosebee said. Tallest defensive back Cooks (at 6-1) is also strong, and can joust with the big receivers when going for the ball. Landrum is shorter but quick to the ball, and leads WNC with 11 interceptions.
Lincolnton is “as balanced as we are, and (also) will take what the defense gives them,” Sosebee said. Stocky Xavier McClain (6-0, 212 sr.) has rushed for 1,880 yards (10.1 ypc) and 28 TDs for the Wolves. He ran for over 200 yards four times; his best was 248 last week with four rushing TDs in three quarters. LHS ran for 366 yards last week.
However, Lincolnton’s weakness may be its secondary, as head coach Ledford Gibson reportedly blamed for giving up big pass plays last week. Thus HHS can strike deep at times after ruling the trenches and tempo — with ball control, from runs and short passes. Surry Central stayed back to prevent deep catches but could not catch Landrum after shorter and intermediate catches into open field.
Perennial title contender LHS won 2A state titles in 1993 and 2007. The Wolves edged 3A South Point, 25-24 in overtime on the road early this season. In turn, South Point beat powerhouse Crest and in playoffs took out West Henderson 59-0 then Tuscola 45-6. The Red Raiders host Pisgah Friday.
Bearcat confidence is surging, Sosebee said. “We’re playing our best football. This is the time to do it.”