Clinton traveled to Bunn Friday night to face the Wildcats in the Eastern Regional finals of the NCHSAA 2AA playoffs. With a berth in the state championship on the line the teams squared off in a game of opposite halves that took overtime to decide the outcome. In end the Dark Horses came out on the short end of a controversial timing issue, and the score, in a 30-29 overtime loss.
The Bunn offense controlled the first half of the game, taking the opening kickoff and setting out on a nine minute twelve second, 21 play, 82 yard drive that included a successful fake punt and ended with a 4-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left in the first quarter. After tacking on the extra point kick Bunn held the 7-0 early lead.
Clinton took the Bunn kickoff and after three short runs punted the ball back to the Wildcats. Bunn’s offense was relentless on their second possession. The Wildcats twice converted on long third down plays as the Dark Horse defense was unable to contain the elusive quarterback who repeatedly scrambled out of would be tacklers. Bunn extended their lead with a 25-yard touchdown run at the ten minute mark of the second quarter and after the successful PAT kick the Wildcats held a commanding 14-0 lead.
Clinton’s offense got on track on the ensuing possession, starting in good field position at their own 38-yard line. The Dark Horses picked up a couple of first downs and seemed to be headed towards a score, until they were stalled by a penalty. On third and three form the Wildcat 43-yard line Ryheem Skinner crashed off tackle for a gain of 15 yards, but flags filled the air and the play was nullified by an illegal chop block, putting the Horses in a third and thirteen. The Horses were forced to punt after they failed to convert on the long third down play.
Clinton’s defense finally held when Bunn’s quarterback overthrew his receiver in the end-zone on fourth down to turn the ball back over to Clinton with 3:21 left in the half.
Taking over at the 50 yard line, the Horses got the ground game in gear, driving the ball deep into Wildcat territory. Tyion Wright put Clinton on the board with and 11-yard touchdown scamper around right end with 1:20 remaining in the half. The PAT kick failed on a botched snap but the Wildcat lead had been trimmed to 14-6.
Bunn was unable to move the ball on their final possession of the half and the teams headed into the break with the Horses trailing by eight. Momentum seemed to have swung in Clinton’s favor in the waning moments of the first half and with the promise of receiving the second half kickoff the Dark Horse hopes were renewed.
Tyion Wright received the opening kick off and weaved his way across the field and up the Bunn sideline to the Bunn 40-yard line before being dragged down. The Clinton celebration was short lived as the Horses were flagged for an illegal block and instead of starting on the Bunn forty, they were set back to their own 10-yard line. The Bunn defense bottled up the Clinton backs on three plays and forced another punt which rolled dead at the Bunn 44-yard line.
Bunn capitalized on the good field position, taking the ball 56 yards in just 1:18, scoring on a 46-yard run to take a 20-6 lead with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter. The Wildcat PAT attempt was wide right leaving the margin at fourteen.
Clinton took the ensuing kickoff out to the 26 yard line and quickly went about cutting into the Wildcat lead. The Dark Horses mounted a 74-yard drive that was capped by a bruising 5-yard Rayquan Faison touchdown run at the 5:19 mark of the third quarter. Perry’s PAT attempt was true this time and the Horses had pulled to within one score at 20-13.
The Dark Horse defense came up big on Bunn’s next possession, forcing a punt after finally putting the clamps on their running game. Bunn punted to Clinton, giving the Horses the ball at their own 22 yard line. The Dark Horses moved the ball across midfield before the drive stalled and they turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcat 44-Yard line.
The Dark Horse defense returned the ball to the offense when they sniffed out Bunn’s second fake punt of the night, giving the Dark Horses another crack from midfield at the 9:51 mark of the fourth quarter.
Clinton wasted little time taking advantage of the good field position. On the second play of the drive, Rayquan Faison, bulled his way 32 yards up the middle, breaking several tackles on his way to the end-zone, making the score 20-19 with 8:49 left in the game. Chandler Perry added the PAT kick to tie the game at 20-20 and the Dark Horses had clawed their way back into the game.
Bunn returned the Clinton kickoff out to their own 26-yard line and seemed to settle down, picking up two first downs and moving the ball to near midfield. It was there that the Dark Horse defense bowed its neck and stopped Bunn forcing a punt on fourth and four from the Bunn 48. The Bunn punter hit a beauty, pinning the Horses at their own 1-yard line with 5:05 left in the game.
Unfazed by the 99-yards between them and Bunn’s goal line, the Dark Horse offense grinded out run after run, picking up several first downs, milking the clock and running the ball out near midfield. On third and one Rayquan Faison broke another long run to move the ball inside the Bunn 10-yard line and set the Dark Horses up first and goal from the eight with 2:04 left in the game.
The Dark Horses were only able to advance the ball to the three yard line on the next three plays so on fourth and goal from the five yard line Chandler Perry lined up for a 20 yard field goal attempt. Perry’s kick was good, and Clinton had their first lead of the night at 23-20 with :51 remaining in the game.
Bunn took over at their own 48-yard line after Clinton squib kicked the ensuing kickoff. Bunn, with one time out remaining, looked to tie or win the game with 46 ticks left on the clock. Clinton forced incomplete passes on first and second down, but on 3rd and 10, Bunn’s quarterback was up to his tricks again, scrambling for a 24-yard gain, stopping the clock at :19 when he ran out of bounds.
Bunn completed a pass to the tight end good for nine yards, and called their final timeout with 13 seconds remaining. Bunn’s quarterback called his own number on the next play, running a sweep around right end but was bottled up by the Dark Horse defense and tackled in bounds with seven seconds remaining on the clock.
The teams rushed to the line of scrimmage with Bunn trying to get set and spike the ball to stop the clock for one final play. The clock stopped at four seconds while the officials were trying set the ball for play, then stopped again at the one second mark. As the Bunn offense scurried to spike the ball the clock went to triple zero and the side judge and referee both ruled the game had ended. The Dark Horses stormed the field in celebration as it certainly appeared that time had expired and they were headed back to the state championship game.
This however, did not turn out to be the case. The game officials gathered at the ten yard line and conferred for several minutes before the referee ordered one second be put back on the clock, giving Bunn the opportunity to attempt a field goal. Clinton head coach Bob Lewis was livid and let the officials know of his displeasure as his assistants rallied the team and got them ready to defend the pending field goal attempt. After a lengthy discussion between Lewis and the referee the teams returned to the field for the final play of regulation. Bunn’s kicker was true on his attempt from 26 yards and the score was tied at 23-23 sending the game to overtime.
Clinton won the coin toss and elected to defend first in overtime. Bunn scored a touchdown on third down from the six yard line on a pass play that appeared to be well defended, but the Bunn receiver was able to come away with the ball and the go ahead score. Bunn’s PAT kick was good and the Wildcats held the 30-23 advantage.
Clinton took only two plays to answer the Bunn score. Rayquan Faison blasted up the middle for four tough yards and Ryheem Skinner bowled in from the six yard line on second down to pull Horses to within one at 30-29.
Chandler Perry’s PAT kick sailed wide right, leaving the Dark Horses one point short and sent the Bunn sideline into a chaotic celebration.
After the game, Clinton head coach Bob Lewis commented on the end of game situation, saying “I have never been as bitter about a loss as I am about this one. I don’t understand the call down at the end, they were not set, they were all moving around while the quarterback spiked the ball. The official told me he did not see it, he said he had his back to it. It’s a heck of a way to lose a ball game because you feel like it was taken from you.”
Lewis continued by complimenting Bunn on their win, adding “I don’t want to take anything away from Bunn, they are a good football team. They moved the ball on us better than anyone has all year.” Lewis also expressed his pride in his team’s performance, saying “I told our guys that I am proud of them, they didn’t give up, came back and should have won this ball game. They have nothing to be ashamed of, they have had a good season.”
Offensively, the Dark Horses were led by Rayquan Faison with 176 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. Ryheem Skinner tallied 105 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown. Tyion Wright added 48 yards on 7 carries and a touchdown before leaving the game in the third quarter with a leg injury. Kris Williams completed one of three passes for 15 yards.
On defense Prentice Murphy once again paced the Dark Horses with 16 tackles. A J Williams tallied 8 stops, Jonathan Wright added 10 tackles, Isaiah Page had 9 stops and Rayquan Faison accounted for 8 tackles.