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Hunt Warriors of 2004 were a special group
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Hunt Warriors of 2004 were a special group

The 2004 Hunt High football team etched itself into school history by become the first -- and only -- Hunt edition to compete for a state championship.

The Warriors were turned back 27-0 on a frigid, windy day in Winston-Salem by Concord in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game. But that loss hasn't diminished their accomplishments during that glorious playoff run, the memory of which carried them to the Team of the Decade title in the recently concluded Wilson Times/Thomas Drug Store Best of the Decade contest.

"The main thing that football team did was they would not ever quit," head coach Randy Raper said. "I think they hated losing more than they loved winning."

In fact, it may have been a loss that set off the Warriors' playoff run. Hunt fell 10-7 at Fike in the regular-season finale, a bitter defeat that cost the Warriors the Big Eight North Conference championship.

"That playoff run after we lost to Fike was definitely something special. We had a lot of luck," Hunt assistant coach Stevie Hinnant said.

The only other loss for Hunt that season was a 46-14 setback to then 4-A Rocky Mount in the season's second game. Hunt posted three shutouts and outscored its foes 356-206.

The biggest win, besides the 29-14 conquest of Hertford County in the East championship game, was a 21-20 thriller over county rival Beddingfield in the third round. The Warriors, who had staved off the Bruins 17-12 in the regular season, intercepted Beddingfield five times. Quarterback Allen Corbett connected with fellow senior LeeLee Pender on a 24-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 9:03 remaining. Brian Radford booted the decisive PAT and the Warriors kept the Bruins at bay.

"That play might be one of the purtiest plays I've ever seen," Hinnant said.

It was one play of many made by Pender, who was a dynamic performer on both sides of the ball.

"You can't play the game by yourself but he could walk on the field and change the game right by himself," Hinnant said. "And the kids would follow him. LeeLee was just fun to be around."

Pender did not go on to play collegiately but a handful of his teammates did, including Sean Allen, who just completed his career at East Carolina University. Twice an All-Conference USA selection on the offensive line, Allen signed a free agent deal with the Buffalo Bills last week.

Corbett, who played baseball at Barton College, proved an adept signal-caller for an offense which mainly thrived on the ground. Senior tailback Jermaine "Black" Williams rushed for nearly 1,800 yards behind a solid offensive line that included Phillip Cambra, Will Crocker, Will Denton, Walker Johnson and Chris Joyner.

Fullback Tod Nelson went on to play at Elizabeth City State University, along with wide receiver/defensive back Jeff Lynn.

On the defensive side of the ball, a gritty linebacking corps led by seniors Zack Strickland, Travis Howington and Jimmy McNamara was the guiding force. But the secondary was special, too, with senior Marcus Sauls, who tied a state record with 15 interceptions, and Ronald Wright, who signed a track scholarship but walked on the football team at ECU.

The defensive line was anchored by Justin Bass, who signed with Lenoir-Rhyne University; Quentin Stackhouse, Bubba Tant, Nick Boyette and Scott Skinner.

Radford was a kicking specialist who would go on to play for the University of Richmond's FCS national championship team in 2008.

With few, if any, superstars, the 2004 Warriors found success the old-fashioned way: hard work and teamwork.

"We've had better talent since and before," Hinnant said. "We just had a good group of kids. We had senior leadership."

Both Hinnant and Raper put the 2004 team in the top two or three the school has produced along with the 1983 Warriors, who were 4-A Eastern finalists, and the 1994 team which spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in 4-A. Hinnant was a member of the '83 team, for which Raper was an assistant coach.

"They're up there at the top," Raper said of the '04 Warriors. "The '83 team reminded me a lot of our 2004 team -- the same type of kids."

"Basically what we had were a lot of good high school football players," Raper continued. "Kids who loved to play the game just to play. That's what we had." | 265-7808
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