HURRICANE — Since earning the starting nod as a sophomore a year ago, Hurricane running back Christian Hill has had a lot on his shoulders.
Never was the burden greater than Friday in what was likely a must-win scenario in terms of the Redskins’ postseason prospects. And with the season riding on it, Hill’s performance may have gone a long way in carrying his team to the playoffs.
Hill finished with a game-high 195 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, spearheading a smash-mouth offensive attack that drove host Hurricane to a 31-20 win over South Charleston.
“He’s a horsey,” Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor said of Hill. “He’s our man. He’s the man we’ve got to get the ball to. He goes as we go. We’ve just got to find the other part to that. We’ve got to scheme to win and not do stuff we’re not very good at.”
After racking up 122 yards on 20 carries in the first half, Hurricane (4-5) started the second half in a Wildcat formation, with Hill taking the shotgun snap and running on six straight plays, capped with a 3-yard scoring plunge to put the Redskins up 24-14. That score came on the heels of a 20-yard field goal from Timothy McCutchen to end the first half, seizing momentum back after the Black Eagles (2-6) had scored a defensive touchdown.
After a lengthy opening drive for SC, the Hurricane defense did its part as well, holding the Black Eagles to seven offensive points and 203 total yards while the Redskins plowed ahead for 262 rushing yards and 312 total yards.
“Defense is always like that, always give up one drive and then they figure it out and they stop them,” Taylor said. “We have a great defense. They’re not good, they’re great. Offensively, we just try not to screw it up.”
Straight out of the gate, South Charleston took a body blow as Romeo Dunham took the opening kickoff and sprinted around the left side for 98 yards and a touchdown, but offsetting penalties negated the play. McCutchen, who would be a big factor in the contest, booted the next kick through the end zone to give SC the ball at its own 20. In fact, all but one of the rest of McCutchen’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, leaving SC in tough field position for most of the game.
“We were trying to smack the ball back in just to have a shot, because we have a good kickoff return team,” SC coach Donnie Mays said.
Unfazed early, the Black Eagles marched 80 yards in 17 grinding plays, taking 8:20 off the clock and putting up seven points on the strength of a 5-yard run from quarterback Shyleik Kinney.
But Hurricane was quite alright with playing at SC’s early, deliberate pace as the Redskins matched that opening drive with a 17-play, 79-yard traverse of their own, capped with a 7-yard run from Hill. It was an early sign of a big day to come.
“They’ve got a good little back,” Mays said. “We knew coming into it we had to stop [Hill] and we didn’t. We’ve had trouble stopping the run all year.”
By then, just a drive apiece into the game, just 9:03 remained in the first half.
Hurricane, however, was far from done, holding the Black Eagles to a three-and-out on its next possession and taking advantage of a 24-yard punt. The Redskins went 46 yards in just six plays to take the lead. Nate Barham hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Austin Womack to give the Redskins a 14-7 advantage.
After another forced three-and-out, Hurricane seemed poised to take command. However, with time in the half fading, the Redskins abandoned their steady ground game and paid the price as SC’s Drew Joseph got his hand on a pass attempt from Nathan Roy, batting the ball into the hands of Rashad Rolle. Rolle sprinted 49 yards to the end zone, suddenly tying things up late in the half.
Hurricane used a late 19-yard run from Hill and a 33-yard connection between Womack and J.T. Cooper to get to the SC 3-yard line, and McCutchen buried a 20-yard field goal as the horn sounded to put the Redskins up 17-14 at the break. Hurricane outgained SC 211-89 in the opening two quarters, but Rolle’s big defensive score kept the Black Eagles firmly in the game.
Hurricane extended its lead to 31-14 in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run from Roy, and that score seemed that it would hold. But Hurricane fumbled deep in SC territory in the closing minutes and Joseph McCallister scooped the ball and raced 77 yards to the end zone to cut the score to 31-20 with 2:25 left.
The Black Eagles recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove inside the Hurricane 5 before sputtering out and turning it over on downs, allowing the Redskins to finally kill the clock.
“Concessions called down and said we had pizza that hadn’t been sold yet so we went ahead and fumbled and gave them an onside kick and then we went ahead and stopped them,” Taylor said about inadvertently extending the excitement. “This game is brought to you by Papa John’s, or whatever they’re selling.”
Jordan Williams complemented Hill, pounding out an additional 53 yards on 12 carries.
Shazaun Cunningham hauled in a game-high seven passes for 96 yards to lead the Black Eagles.