After an injury last season robbed Poca standout Ethan Payne’s of a healthy chunk of the 2018 season, the junior couldn’t wait to get back on the field.
On Friday, Payne picked right up where he left off, rushing for 294 yards on 13 carries and four touchdowns, lifting Poca to a season-opening 40-28 road victory against Nitro at Underwood Field.
In the first quarter alone, Payne rushed for 205 yards on just five carries, including touchdown runs of 54 and 85 yards. He also added runs of 14, 37, and 15 yards for the Dots in the period.
“It felt amazing being back and was everything I thought about coming back from the injury,” said Payne, whose hip injury led him to miss most of Poca’s final four 2018 games. “I just wanted to get back out here with my teammates. My mindset was just getting back in the groove.”
“I’m real happy for Ethan,” Poca coach Seth Ramsey said. “He worked really hard in the offseason. I hate what happened to him last year. He’s worked his tail off to get back.”
After a defensive stop to begin the game, Poca took over on offense for the first time and, three plays later, Payne scampered 54 yards for a touchdown to give the Dots a 6-0 lead just 2:49 into the game.
Poca got another stop on defense and on its first play of their next offensive series, Payne struck for paydirt yet again, running 85 yards for another touchdown and suddenly the Dots led Nitro 13-0 with 5:04 left in the first.
“It was amazing,” Payne said. “The line blocked really good, I saw the hole, and it felt great running down the sideline. I have to give thanks to the big guys up front.”
Nitro got on the scoreboard late in the first quarter on an impressive nine-play, 80 yard drive, capped off by a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Lowe to Dallas Hazelett to cut the Poca lead to just 13-7 with 2:18 left.
The Wildcats caught a huge break when Payne was running down the sideline on another big run but just dropped the ball and Nitro recovered the fumble. Poca, though, got a stop on defense, then scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to lead 33-7 at halftime.
The Dots scored on an Ethan Miller 17-yard TD pass from quarterback Jay Cook, a 15-yard touchdown run by Payne, and a 43-yard TD pass from Cook to Toby Payne with just five seconds to go in the half.
After Ethan Payne’s lost fumble, he didn’t return to the field for Poca’s next offensive series, due to overheating from the hot temperatures. He returned for the following series and played most of the third quarter before heading to the sideline in the fourth with the game in hand.
In the second half, Payne scored his fourth touchdown of the game, a 2-yard run to give Poca a 40-7 lead with 9:27 left in the third quarter.
Against the Dots backups, Nitro scored three touchdowns to cut the deficit all the way down to 40-28 with 23 seconds left in the game. In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats scored on a 44-yard TD pass from Lowe to Kristian Johnson, a 23-yard touchdown pass from Lowe to Anthony Jackson and a 12-yard TD run by Lowe.
Lowe finished the night completing 18 of 24 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. He added 119 yards on the ground on 20 carries and a TD run. The sophomore finished with 414 yards of offense.
“Trevor is a really good player,” Nitro coach Zach Davis said. “He had a really good night. He’s only a 10th-grader. He can’t even shave.
“We were going up and down the field but couldn’t score. Poca is a really good football team. We have double-digit new starters, and a bunch of them are freshmen and sophomores. They are growing up before our eyes. We had 400 yards of offense tonight and defensively we need to get more stops.”