GASTONIA –– Hunter Huss won its first playoff game since 2006 and kept West Lincoln winless in the postseason all-time with a 30-27 victory Friday night.
The Huskies, who had lost six straight state playoff games, advance to the second round of the NCHSAA 2AA West bracket and will host Bunker Hill, a winner 20-17 winner over Ashe County, in the second round.
The Rebels, seeking their first playoff win in six appearances, finished their season with a record of 7-5.
The game really was a tale of two halves.
Huss (5-7) had no answer for West Lincoln running back Daniel Davila, who rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and finished with 209 yards on 35 carries.
Trailing 21-17 at intermission, the Huskies knew coming out of the locker room that Kerrion Moore, suspended for the first half for a violation of team rules, would return to the field.
Moore scored the first time he touched the ball on a 15-yard run to give Huss its first lead of the contest and the momentum seemed to swing the Huskies’ direction.
Huss coach Steve Gardner said he and the team felt like if they could weather and storm and keep it close that Moore’s presence would give them a chance in the second half.
“I think when he got into the ballgame he made a difference simply because of that first run when he scored the touchdown,” Gardner said, “and he kind of loosened up the defense for us.”
West Lincoln’s offense bogged down in the third quarter as the Rebels were forced to punt three times and were held out of the end zone.
Quarterback Andrew Jordan connected with tight end Aaron Rohlman on a 47-yard touchdown midway through the third to put Huss ahead comfortably 30-21.
As the Huskies were driving toward the end zone late in the fourth quarter to try and put the game out of reach, they fumbled on their own 2-yard line, opening the door for the Rebels.
West Lincoln drove the ball 98 yards and scored on a 5-yard plunge by running back Taylor Long with 1:17 remaining to get the Rebels within three points after the missed PAT by kicker Ivan Cavillo.
The Rebels attempted three straight unsuccessful onside kicks that went out of bounds and were penalized on every one, marching back 5 yards each time.
The fourth onside try was recovered by Huss and the Huskies ran out the clock to escape another early exit from the postseason.
“(Huss) played well the whole first half without their running back and then Moore came in the second half and did a good job,” West Lincoln coach Tom Sain said. “They had a big lift when they came out at halftime.”
West Lincoln seized control of the game at the very beginning by intercepting Jordan on Huss’ first play from scrimmage, which set up Davila’s first score the first time he touched the football.
After a 44-yard pass from Jordan to Ryan Ford on a fake punt, the Huskies tied the game at 7 on a 5-yard run by Dion Eaddy on their second possession.
Davila found the end zone again in the first quarter on a 26-yard scamper and the Rebels regained the advantage 14-7.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter as Charles Mack George scored on a 2-yard run for West Lincoln and quarterback Xavier Thomas threw a 44-yard pass to Ford to pull Huss to within four points.
“Going into halftime knowing Kerrion was coming back, we knew he was going to be a threat and it gave us (some momentum),” Gardner said.
Moore finished with 61 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown. Eaddy led Huss in rushing with 73 yards on 12 attempts and a touchdown. Jordan completed 5 of 9 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown. Ford had three catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Davila accounted for the bulk of West Lincoln’s 289 yards of offense, all on the ground.
“We wanted to keep running the ball and doing the things we had to do,” Sain said. “We were hoping to get an onside kick there at the end of the game to get the ball back.”