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Bearcat season ends in offensive duel; much firepower returns in ‘17

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Senior bulldozer Blaine Sharpe smashes the ball carrier into DL cohort Tyrese Cauley (at right), a junior, as senior LB Shaq Rospel (1) approaches. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Hendersonville’s playoff run ended in round three at Lincolnton Friday, in a tale of two halves as the Bearcats led most of the first half but ultimately fell 72-44.

HHS (10-4) got the better of an offensive barrage early on, in this 2A semifinal game. The score was tied at 27, at halftime. Lincolnton (13-1) poured it on in the third quarter by scoring three touchdowns to HHS’ one, and hitting more long pass plays. The Wolves ranked fourth in the state among 2A teams, to close the regular season.

The Wolves scored more points in a playoff game in school history, and tallied 785 yards of offense. They advance to play the Western Region title game at unbeaten Reidsville (14-0). Reidsville has won more (15) state football titles than any school in North Carolina.

Hendersonville first-year head coach Jim Sosebee, previously the offensive coordinator, has much scoring firepower eligible to return in 2017. He praised his squad’s effort all season, and this night — particularly in the first half as HHS recovered three LHS fumbles.

But then in the second half, Lincolnton was emancipated from turnovers to score 45 points and earn a proclamation of victory.

LHS drew first blood, returning the opening kickoff 88 yards for a score to ignite a see-saw battle.

The Bearcat attack was the much more balanced one in the red zone, and scored its first two touchdowns on runs. First, super soph back Ty’rese Hunt took a pitch, and charged six yards. Next after a LHS score, senior Leon Cooks ran 63 yards. HHS grabbed its first lead, and led 14-13 after one quarter.

HHS expanded its lead to 20-13, as quarterback Bud Williford connected with fast Tykel Landrum on a stop-and-go route to the sideline covering 30 yards. Landrum caught the ball at the 20, and zoomed down the sideline to paydirt.

“It felt amazing to have the lead” in the second quarter, Landrum said. “We just had a lot of mistakes in the second half,” that turned the tide.

Cooks later ran eight yards for a TD. But that was sandwiched between two LHS scores. The home team’s two-point conversion tied it at 27, before halftime.

The junior combo of Williford to Landrum again accelerated the scoreboard — this time on a three-yard TD, in the third quarter. Cooks ran for his third score of the night, dashing 37 yards as he surpassed 100 rushing yards on his three TDs alone. Senior Drew Eudy kicked a 32-yard field goal.

Cooks reached 1,000 receiving yards for the year — at 1,018 — by catching six passes for 75 yards. He ends 2016 with 55 receptions with one-fifth of them (11) for TDs. He added over 400 rushing yards.

Landrum and Cooks are hailed as the first HHS pair of 1,000-yard receivers in a season. Landrum leads WNC in receiving yardage with over 1,650. His best game ever statistically was a week before, in the 73-28 win at Surry Central. He set three HHS game receiving marks with 364 yards, 14 catches and by going the distance on half of them (seven TDs).

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Leon Cooks (10) leaps out of an ankle tackle, as he nears the goal line in 2A playoff action. The senior and junior Tykel Landrum formed the first HHS pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Behind are senior Demetrius Smith (6) and soph Nasir Artis (8). Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Landrum caught 23 passes for touchdowns, among more than 90 receptions in this season. He averaged over 18 yards per reception. Landrum shined on defense, too, as among leading HHS tacklers. He paces WNC with 11 interceptions this year. Demetrius Smith, a senior, added about 40 catches in ’16.

Husky Hunt rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and for 15 TDs — and has two more years at HHS.

Williford peaked in playoffs, and is central to 2017 team prospects. He threw for two touchdowns and 216 yards Friday. That was nearly half of HHS’ 446 yards in total offense. Williford passed for over 3,350 yards and 39 TDs and ran for eight more scores and nearly 500 yards, in his first year as a varsity starter

His counterpart, Cordel Littlejohn, threw for eight TDs Friday, for a Lincoln County and LHS mark. That was within one of Connor Mitch’s state record, set with Raleigh Wakefield in 2012. At least two Littlejohn TD passes were bombs. He passed for 427 yards — for 3,571 this year along with 49 aerial TDs versus merely six picks.

Superstar Sage Surratt and Langdon Givens each caught four TD passes for LHS. Harvard-bound Surratt caught 11 balls for 254 yards Friday. He set a state record for career receiving TDs — with 79. Surratt padded two state career records — to 415 receptions and 6,573 yards in four years. He already has 120 catches for 2,031 yards and 27 TDs this season. Like his QB, he is 6-foot-4. On defense, Surratt led LHS with nine solo tackles for 108 in ’16. He led LHS with six of its 21 sacks entering the game.

The Wolves’ Xavier McClain ran for 237 yards and a score (his 29th in ’16), to reach 2,117 rushing yards this year.

This closes an era for Hendersonville Bearcats. In fall 2017, they shift from the Western Highlands Conference to the WNC Athletic Conference.

Meanwhile, in transitioning to winter sports the next day, several Bearcats practiced basketball on Saturday.

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