Hardie’s 355 rushing yards leads Vincent to 4th straight

By DONALD CAMPBEL | For the Reporter

NEW SITE – With the 2017 high school football season reaching the home stretch and the playoff picture beginning to come together, the Vincent Yellow Jackets left New Site on Friday night with a 32-22 victory over the Horseshoe Bend Generals.

“Offensively, we moved the ball and had some chances to score, and just didn’t convert when we had to,” Generals coach Josh Averett said. “Vincent’s got a great running back. We struggled tonight bringing him down. He’s just a big guy and hard to handle.”

The running back in question, junior Christopher Hardie, bulldozed his way through the Horseshoe Bend defense, amassing 355 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.

“It all starts with my offensive line. They’ve been working since day one,” Hardie said. “I’m just proud of them. It all starts with them.”

At the same time, the Yellow Jackets amassed 110 yards in penalties, several of which helped sustain drives for the Generals, including a roughing the passer penalty on third and 21 for Horseshoe Bend in the fourth quarter.

“There’s a lot of mistakes every time we go out, and we’re trying to correct those as best we can. I thought tonight we played with a lot of effort, but we probably set the AHSAA record for penalty yards,” Yellow Jackets coach Wiley McKeller said. “If we’re going to continue to win like we have been and we’re going to move into the playoffs, have a chance, we’ve got to fix the penalty problem. That’s a No. 1 for us to fix next week.”

Vincent came out roaring on its first possession, driving the ball 76 yards on 10 plays and four minutes, capped with the first of Hardie’s three touchdowns, a 13-yard run. The two-point conversion pass was good, and the Yellow Jackets found themselves with an 8-0 lead.

The Generals seemed like they would answer right back, getting the ball down to the Yellow Jackets’ 16-yard line, but a Trace Meadows run on fourth and 3 came up just inches short of the first-down marker. Horseshoe Bend’s defense answered the call, however, forcing Vincent to punt. Nywanski Russell took the punt at his own 45 and raced 55 yards for a score, but a penalty on the Generals negated his spectacular return.

The second quarter started with a serious scare, as Nalijah Heard tackled Hardie for a 1-yard loss but went down with an injury. The crowd held its breath for several minutes and a special prayer for his health and safety went up from the Horseshoe Bend sideline before Heard was transported off the field and taken to the hospital. Thankfully, Averett said after the game Heard had been released from the hospital.

Following the injury, the Vincent drive continued, and despite penalties for a block in the back and holding, Hardie found paydirt once again, pounding the ball in from 15 yards out.

However, Horseshoe Bend’s offense found a strong rhythm once again, answering with a three play, 60-yard drive polished off with a 45-yard run from Meadows. Meadows tacked on a two-point run, bringing the Generals within seven.

Vincent struck right back to take a 22-8 lead into halftime. Despite a sack and a holding penalty that turned first and goal at the Generals’ 5 into second and goal at the 16, quarterback Dusty Davis found wide receiver Zavien Kelley wide open in the end zone for the touchdown.

The Generals opened up the second half with a drive that spanned 69 yards and 14 plays, wrapped up with Meadows finding the end zone from two yards out. The seesaw battle continued though, as Vincent took its next possession, drove down the field and into the end zone on the legs of Hardie, who pounded it in from 11 yards out.

Horseshoe Bend hit paydirt early in the final frame, as Meadows carried the ball in for his third rushing touchdown of the night to successfully polish off a seven play drive that began late in the third frame.

The final points of the night came via the foot of Yellow Jackets kicker Zachary Munoz on a 19-yard field goal attempt on the ensuing Vincent drive.

A good return on the subsequent onside kick put Horseshoe Bend at the Vincent 38-yard line to start, but the Generals were unable to bring the game any closer than second and goal at the 5. Joe Railey was tackled in the backfield for a 3-yard loss, quarterback Cade Worthy was sacked for a loss of five, and his fourth and goal heave from the 13 fell incomplete.

After the turnover on downs, the Yellow Jackets gained just enough rushing yardage from Hardie and Davis to run out the clock and seal the 10-point victory.

“This was a learning experience. Every time you go out there as a young player, it’s a learning experience,” McKeller said. “In some ways, we’re going to get better from this, but the performance wasn’t as sharp as we wanted it to be.”

Meadows was the big man for the Generals, carrying the ball 24 times and racking up 139 yards on the ground, while adding 32 more yards on two receptions. Worthy went 6-for-16 and 89 yards through the air.

“It doesn’t feel good to be 2-5. I don’t know how good you can feel after a loss,” Averett said. “We’re still going to come Monday and go to work, get ready for the next one.”