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No one will blame a coaching staff that spends an extensive amount of time preparing to address Southern Nash High senior running back Quinton Cooley.
But if the Firebirds are to engineer a deep advance into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A postseason, other viable options will have to rise to the forefront.
Senior quarterback Matt Foster supplied one such alternative Friday night against Hunt in Warrior Stadium.
With another opponent committed to keeping the ball away from Southern Nash and its double-wing offense, Foster helped break open a one-score game before halftime.
After the Firebirds muffed a kickoff out of bounds to take possession at their own 10-yard line, Foster, the son of head coach Brian Foster, gained the edge on first down. Hunt lost containment, allowing Foster to scamper down the visiting sidelines on his way to a 90-yard touchdown.
The Warriors committed a special-teams blunder on the ensuing kickoff that was recovered by Southern Nash junior Xavien Smith, and the short field was turned into a touchdown by Cooley. That sequence turned what was a one-score game into the continuation of 34 unanswered points and a 48-6 Southern Nash victory.
The Firebirds, ranked No. 6 in this week’s Associated Press 3-A poll, remained unbeaten through nine games and three in Big East play, winning their 19th straight conference game. Hunt tumbled to 4-5 in all games, losing its third consecutive league contest.
“I saw grass, so I ran!” Matt Foster said of his long run. “I’ve got to give props to Quinton, because he was blocking like crazy on that play. If you go back and watch film, I think he blocked five people on that play.”
Southern Nash didn’t show the double-wing at all during its 11 plays from scrimmage in the first quarter, instead lining up in the shotgun and splitting Cooley out wide. Foster found senior Michael Parker for a 49-yard completion, and Cooley finished the drive with a 9-yard plunge. The PAT missed, leaving the Firebirds up 6-0.
Hunt, starting junior A.J. Kovach at quarterback as senior Dalton Garwood nursed a hamstring injury, stayed within range in the first half on a pair of 20-yard field goals from senior kicker Dante Gaetano. The Firebirds returned to the double wing to start the second quarter and paid it off with a 16-yard touchdown burst from sophomore Jackson Vick.
“It’s a hard offense to stop,” first-year Hunt head coach Ryan Sulkowski said. “And we didn’t help ourselves by giving them the ball in our territory — once on the kickoff, and once on the interception. I thought we did a good job moving the ball. We controlled the clock like we wanted to, but you can’t pin them deep at the 10-yard line and give up a 90-yard toss, which is the first play they get taught in Pee Wee football.”
Cooley, by his lofty standards in 2019, was held to 141 yards on 18 carries with a pair of TDs. A bothersome ankle injury kept him out of practice throughout the week.
“I thought they played well against Quinton,” Brian Foster said of Hunt. “That’s probably the best anybody’s played him.”
The Firebirds enforced the running clock with 7 minutes, 16 seconds remaining on a 2-yard plunge by senior Xavier Burgess.
Senior running back Tiquez Taylor led Hunt’s ground attack with 97 yards on 20 carries. Yet the Firebirds outgained Hunt in the run game by more than a 2-to-1 margin, running for 314 yards as compared to Hunt’s 156.