Magical season ends in third round

Published 8:43 am Thursday, December 8, 2016

In the quarterfinals Friday at War Eagle Stadium, it was like watching a pair of heavyweight champions going at it.

Davie, the top seed in the 4A West, struck twice in the first seven minutes for a 14-0 lead. Visiting Dudley, the No. 2 seed, answered with 22 straight points. Davie responded with 16 unanswered points to take a 30-22 lead. For three and a half quarters, it was a shootout filled with drama and thrills.

The Panthers, who are stacked with future Division-I talent, finally broke Davie’s spirit with 6:13 remaining and closed the game on a 32-0 tear to win 54-30. It drew the curtain on a wonderful 12-2 season for the War Eagles, who had won 10 straight. Both losses were to the Panthers, who improved to 13-1.

“They’re a good team,” Davie coach Tim Devericks said. “They’re not going to fold. They’ve been in these big games, been in the pressure-cooker, and they’re going to battle back. We tried to maintain the momentum and tried to keep battling as well.”

“They got the best of us by the end,” senior left tackle Luke Pratapas said as teammates and coaches shared tearful hugs after one of the greatest seasons ever in the final game at War Eagle Stadium. “We really fought hard this season. We earned everything we got. I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me and helped the team. It’s really been a fantastic journey.”

Having a quarterback like Chris Reynolds afforded Davie a puncher’s chance, even against an opponent with unreal talent, and the early moments were electrifying for the War Eagles.

On the second play from scrimmage, Dudley quarterback Hendon Hooker (140 rushing yards, 261 passing yards, two TD runs, two TD passes) tried a run straight up the middle. Linebacker James Boyle met him at the line of scrimmage, the crushing blow causing a fumble. The ball pinballed back to the Dudley 3, where a Panther recovered. Dudley punted after the next play.

On Davie’s fifth offensive play, Reynolds split two defenders in the backfield and rolled left. Instead of taking off, he flipped a pass to Cooper Wall, who gained 26 yards to the Dudley 3. Enter the hammer team, with Boyle at tight end and Beau Byerly at blocking back. On second-and-goal from the 1, Reynolds followed Byerly and running back Peyton Hampton, jumping over the middle of the line to score. Jared Griggs’ extra point gave Davie a 7-0 lead.

Dudley’s second possession ended with Jack Little bursting through the middle to block a punt. Davie took over at the Dudley 13. On third-and-9 from the 12, Dudley blitzed from the left and Reynolds swept around right end, leaping from the 2-yard line and extending the ball to break the plane, a tenacious TD that  brought the home fans to a roar and provided a breathtaking 14-0 lead.

“It definitely felt good, getting those two touchdowns at the start,” Pratapas said.

“(Reynolds) was making some great plays,” Dudley coach Steven Davis said. “I’ve got to give it to him. He gave us fits on the sideline. The coaching staff was like: Do we send blitzes? Do we sit back?”

Dudley was not fazed. On fourth-and-2 from the Davie 47, Hooker moved the sticks with a 24-yard run around left end. Then Ezra Perkins had a tackle-shredding 23-yard score through the middle. On the extra point, the holder mishandled the snap and Hite Merrifield tackled him as Davie’s lead remained 14-6.

Hooker scrambled 12 yards on third-and-10 before completing a 19-yard pass to Nigel Fitzgerald (six catches for 112 yards). That put Dudley at the Davie 2, and two plays later it was 14-14 as the Panthers went 6 for 6 on two-point conversions, all pass plays.

“We stayed with the game plan,” Davis said. “Every time we ran, we got behind the sticks, so we had to throw it. We started throwing it on first down. If we could get 5 yards on first down, we were cooking with grease. We stuck with it and then things started opening up a little more.”

Davie fumbled at midfield. Boyle and Cody Hendrix stopped Hooker for no gain, setting up fourth-and-9 from the Davie 37. But Hooker took advantage of broken coverage. Two Davie defensive backs went with one receiver underneath, Fitzgerald was all alone down the right sideline, and the result was a TD that put Dudley in front 22-14.

“If the play they called from the sideline was open, we ran that,” said Hooker, who has signed with Virginia Tech. “I would audible at the line if I saw something.”

The War Eagles did not flinch, driving 71 yards. Senior receiver Tyler Roberts, who evolved into a reliable playmaker as a first-year varsity player, inspired Davie with five catches for 79 yards, including a 23-yard reception in which Reynolds whipped the ball through a tight window over the middle. On a third-and-9 pass over the middle, Byerly reached up between two defenders to reel in an 11-yarder. Roberts drew pass interference. On the next play, he scored on a 24-yard slant route, which gave Reynolds the record for career TD passes. When Reynolds lobbed a two-point pass to Roberts, it was 22-22 at halftime.

“After the third or fourth game, Tyler really had a huge turnaround,” Devericks said. “He got in rhythm, stepped up big time and made the offense two-sided. I mean you couldn’t rotate one way.”

“I told the defense, just do what you do,” Davis said. “We told the DBs: If (Reynolds) scrambles, just stay with your guy. One time he hit (Roberts) in the corner. (Roberts) must have tiptoed the sideline because my DB was right there, and (Reynolds) still threw it and made the play. He’s great.

“We were going to take away 81 (Cooper Wall, who was locked down by a junior, D.J. Crossen, who has committed to UNC). We said if somebody else beats us, that’s the way we’re going to live – because 81 is unbelievable. No. 9 (Roberts) made some great plays, but at the end we came up big.”

Davie couldn’t have scripted a better start to the second half. Reynolds found Mason Wilson and Roberts for 11 and 17 yards, respectively. Wilson drew a pass-interference penalty. Then Reynolds tossed a rainbow corner route to Byerly for a 17-yard TD. On the two-point play, two Panthers chased Reynolds behind the line of scrimmage. It was vintage Reynolds, who retreated 15 yards behind the line and scrambled long enough to find Roberts. Davie had the 30-22 lead.

“That was Beau on his patented corner route,” Devericks said. “When you see how they were aligned, you know what’s getting ready to be thrown.

“The kids believed. They’re brothers and they’re going to battle until the bitter end. That’s why these guys are so emotional.”

“We stayed calm,” Davis said. “We were talking to the guys upstairs during halftime. They told us some things. Eventually we got them going and kind of wore (Davie) down.”

Then Davie’s defense came up big. On fourth-and-1 from the Davie 43, Hooker tried to get around right end. Hendrix turned him in. Then defensive linemen Ronald Wilson and Spencer Wilson buried him a yard back.

Then Davie was oh so close to taking a two-score lead. A Davie punt slipped through the hands of the kick returner, and Broc Barnette got his team-high fourth fumble recovery at the Dudley 25. On first down, Reynolds rolled right and threw across his body, connecting with Roberts for 8 yards.

“I felt the momentum going our way,” Reynolds said.

The next play, however, changed the game. With Reynolds looking for Wall in the end zone, a linebacker was untouched on a blitz and sacked Reynolds for an 11-yard loss. Davie would turn it over on downs at the Dudley 28.

“We gave it everything we had,” Reynolds said. “We fought until the final minute. I’m proud of all my teammates.”

On a first-down play, Boyle and Hendrix blitzed one way, Hooker went the other and weaved 49 yards for a score. Fitzgerald made a one-handed, falling-back catch for two points, and the game was tied at 30 with 4:17 left in the third.

“We were on our heels with them throwing the ball all over the yard,” Devericks said. “We had to try to find a way to generate pressure and try to occupy all the gaps. One guy gets turned one way, it’s a crease and (Hooker’s) a phenomenal athlete.”

M. Wilson absorbed a bone-crunching hit on a slant pass, but he caught it anyway to move the chains on third down. But Dudley linebacker Patrick Connor intercepted an over-the-middle pass intended for Will Shepherd and returned it 24 yards to the Davie 18.

“My coaching staff put me in the right position,” Connor said. “I was watching for a drag because they kept telling me all week: ‘Watch for the drag. Watch for the drag.’ It was either go hard or go home.”

On second-and-16, Hooker and Fitzgerald hooked up on a post for a 24-yard TD, and the two-point completion made it 38-30.

“I think we shut down the inside stuff and they just went to the next playmaker,” Devericks said. “The next playmakers were on the outside.”

The War Eagles were running on empty, but they had one more drive in their tank. Reynolds picked up 12 yards on third-and-10. After Hampton motored for 15 yards, the 15th of Dudley’s 16 penalties pushed the ball to the Dudley 23. The next play would tell the tale. Hampton picked up nice yardage to around the 15, but the play was brought back by a holding flag. Reynolds, who wasn’t sacked in the first half, was sacked twice – along with three other times in the second half – and Davie punted from midfield.

“We had a little momentum,” Devericks said. “We were running the ball and then we get a big holding call. They knew we had to throw it at that point, and those guys could pin their ears back.”

The Panthers had a right hook to go with all those left jabs from Hooker, Jon Zellous (seven catches for 106 yards) and Fitzgerald. The fateful play was a jet sweep to Zariek Rush, who exploded 44 yards down the sideline as Dudley took a 46-30 lead with 6:13 remaining.

Over the final 19 minutes, the Panthers, who capped the scoring with 1:20 on the clock, did virtually everything right.

Davie’s dream of playing one last home game at War Eagle Stadium and reaching Raleigh for the state championship had disappeared. But it was one heck of a ride. How does a team that was outrushed 263-51 and outgained 524-205 stay in contention three-fourths of the way against a loaded opponent? Heart and guts.

“Only one team gets the ending they want. Only one team,” Devericks said. “For the journey these guys have been on, don’t let this take away from all the success that they had. I’m super proud of them. No one wants the season to end, especially when you’re a senior. But nothing can take away from what this group accomplished.”

“This entire county … it really is something special to be apart of this program,” Pratapas, a four-year varsity starter, said. “Everyone who is involved has contributed so much. We have a great group of guys and it really has become a brotherhood over the past four years. You spend so much time with these guys that it’s like you’re growing up next to them, and that’s something that will last the rest of my life.”

Notes: Davie came in ranked fourth in the state rankings; Dudley was eighth. … Dudley’s Shrine Bowl center, Dacquari Wilson, suffered a torn ACL in its only loss (Page), but played through it against Davie. … Hooker has accounted for 46 TDs either rushing or passing. … Dudley came in averaging 9.8 yards per carry. … Rematches within a season are rare. This marked just the fifth rematch in Davie’s 61-year history. Before this, the team that won the regular-season matchup was 0-4 in the postseason rematch. In 1973, Davie beat Mooresville 27-14 in the regular season, then lost 48-19 in the first round. In 2010, Davie lost 51-28 to North Davidson in the regular season, then won 35-10 in the first round. Also in 2010, Davie lost 34-0 to Mt. Tabor before winning 30-29 in overtime in the second round. In 2012, Davie beat Tabor 24-7 in the regular season before Tabor won 14-7 in the second round.

Dudley        6    16  16  16 – 54

Davie       14  8    8    0   – 30

First Quarter

Dav – Reynolds 1 run (Griggs kick), 8:17.

Dav – Reynolds 12 run (Griggs kick), 4:59.

Dud – Perkins 23 run (run fail), 2:50.

Second Quarter

Dud – Hooker 2 run (Perkins pass from Hooker), 10:43.

Dud – Fitzgerald 37 pass from Hooker (Young pass from Hooker), 4:40.

Dav – Roberts 24 pass from Reynolds (Roberts pass from Reynolds), 2:18.

Third Quarter

Dav – Byerly 17 pass from Reynolds (Roberts pass from Reynolds), 10:51.

Dud – Hooker 49 run (Fitzgerald pass from Hooker), 4:22.

Dud – Fitzgerald 24 pass from Hooker (Young pass from Hooker), 1:30.

Fourth Quarter

Dud – Rush 44 run (Fitzgerald pass from Hooker), 6:13.

Dud – Hooker 10 run (Zellous pass from Hooker), 1:20.


Dud Dav


Rushing 35-263 28-51

Passing 261 154

C-A-I 17-29-0 12-28-2

Punts 2-33 5-37

F-L 3-1 2-1

Penalties 16-132 5-50

3rd conv. 2-10 6-12



RUSHING – Hooker 19-140, Rush 6-87, Perkins 9-57, team 1-(-21)

PASSING – Hooker 17-28-0-261, team 0-1

RECEIVING – Zellous 7-106, Fitzgerald 6-112, Young 4-43


RUSHING – Hampton 10-40, Reynolds 16-11, Cranfill 2-0

PASSING – Reynolds 12-28-2-154

RECEIVING – Roberts 5-79, Byerly 2-28, M. Wilson 2-18, Wall 1-26, Hampton 1-2, Cranfill 1-1