Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
MEBANE — Sophomore Hunt High running back C.J. Joyner has never performed more impressively since donning a varsity football uniform his freshman season.
Still, his milestone performance amounted to a mere footnote for an otherwise humbling experience for the Warriors on a cold but not rainy Friday night in Eastern Alamance High’s Fred Brady Athletic Complex Stadium.
Despite 166 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 totes from the 6-foot, 180-pound Joyner, Hunt, fifth in the Big East Conference and the No. 14 seed among 16 East Region qualifiers, bowed 48-14 to undefeated Eastern Alamance in the opening round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
The Eagles, undefeated during the regular season for the third time in a decade and for the first time since 2015, zipped for touchdowns their first four possessions and constructed a 27-0 halftime lead that could have been healthier.
With a 11-0 mark, Eastern Alamance, which reached the third round last season, welcomes Jacksonville Northside in the second round.
Hunt, appearing in the playoffs for the first time during the careers of the 14 seniors, finished with a 5-7 record, dropping six of its last seven games.
Eastern Alamance so dominated that the scoreboard clock ran continuously the final 20 minutes and 39 seconds after Hunt fell behind 48-0.
List senior offensive tackle Anthony Williamson among the most distraught Warriors.
“I always believe we have a chance to win,” Williamson lamented of Hunt’s plight as the decided underdog. “If we work our hardest we can win the game. We could have done better and should be a higher seed. We should be in the second round, but we just made mistakes and they capitalized.
“This is my last game and I’m going to miss it. But I am glad to go out with my boys one last time.”
Joyner found a reason to be upbeat.
“Tonight was good for me,” he remarked. “I reached the 1,000-yard (single-season rushing) mark as a sophomore. I was playing for the (14) seniors.
“I got to play with a good team and a great group of seniors.”
Hunt’s defense responded with few answers to the Eagles’ no-huddle, hurry-hurry offense that featured senior quarterback Austin Bryant, punishing senior running back Colby May and sure-handed senior receiver Lanier Rice.
Bryant ran for a pair of TDs and threw for three more. Senior defensive end Tyler Pendygraft anchored a defense that struggled to bring down the hard-running Joyner but did not permit a serious threat until seconds after the clock began to run non-stop — except for the change of quarters.
“The defense played extremely well,” assessed 28th-year Eagles head coach John Kirby.”We kept them in check and got good field position. We are usually more of a pass-oriented team, but we ran the ball tonight. That was what was given us.”
The Eagles constructed the 27-0 halftime bulge on Bryant’s 19-yard strike to Rice, Bryant’s 7-yard run on a keeper, Bryant’s 11-yard TD toss to senior A.J. Camuto and Bryant’s 77-yard bomb over the middle to sophomore Darius Kane.
Although entrenched in Hunt territory, the Eagles failed to build the margin the first half as Hunt junior Andrey Loftin stole the ball from May as he took the handoff and, a couple of minutes later, recovered a muffed Eastern Alamance punt reception.
A trio of third-quarter scores completed the Eagles assault before Kirby turned action over to his reserves and junior varsity players that have been brought up for the playoffs.
Bryant, on an option, wrested the football from May’s possession and galloped 50 yards for a TD; Pendygraft entered the scoring act on a 5-yard carry; and junior Quentin Idley found the end zone from 2 yards out. Senior Jackson Poteat kicked the extra point following six of the seven TDs.
The Warriors averted the shutout when senior quarterback Tiquez Taylor scooped up an errant snap, scrambled and pitched the ball to sophomore receiver Davon Jones, who completed the 75-yard pass-and-run play.
Finally, Joyner bulled a yard for his TD and senior Dante Gaetano kicked the PAT after both TDs.
“We knew how explosive their offense could be,” summarized first-year Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski. “But if we don’t have penalties — and we had a slew of them — the score would have been different. I don’t know that the outcome would have been different.
“(Eastern Alamance’s performance) is where you strive for your program to be. But you cannot get there without seeing it. Tonight, we saw a really good program.”
Added Joyner: “They could run (175 yards) and pass (173 yards). They had good defense and good coaching. I can see why they’re undefeated.”