Knights rally, advance

North Davidson linebacker Hunter Hoots recovers a fumbled snap in the end zone for a touchdown against Dudley punter Ely-Jah Harris in the fourth quarter of their game Friday night. At left is North’s Devaris Byrd and Dudley’s Darius Graves. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

WELCOME | North Davidson needed to make something happen.

And when that’s the case, the Black Knights turn to Hunter Hoots.

The senior linebacker with a nose for the football was at it again Friday night, and North is moving on to the third round of the 4-A playoffs. Hoots caused and recovered a fumble on the kickoff to start the second half, and later recovered a fumble in the end zone as the Knights rallied for a 36-26 victory over Dudley at Palmer Field. With the win, the Knights stayed unbeaten at 13-0 and will host Central Piedmont Conference foe Mount Tabor next week in the state quarterfinals. North nipped the Spartans 7-6 in Welcome on Sept.. 28 in Welcome.

For a half, it didn’t look like that rematch was going to happen. Dudley quarterback Richard Hayes threw three touchdown passes, and the Panthers defense was suffocating as the visitors carried an 18-7 lead into the locker room.

North was looking for answers in the locker room. “We haven’t seen a whole lot of adversity this year,” North coach Mark Holcomb conceded. “And we didn’t react to it real well in the first half.

“We talked about just getting back to the simple things we work on all the time — reading your keys, doing the little things. It’s blocking and tackling. Everybody’s got good players at this point in the game, and it’s just a matter of doing what you’re supposed to do.”

For Hoots, that means swinging the momentum when his team needs a big play. Dudley deferred after winning the coin toss to start the game, that meant the Knights had to kick off coming out of the locker room. “At halftime we were saying, ‘we’ve got to get something going,’” Hoots said. “I came out here before the kickoff, and I was like, ‘we’ve got to get a play right here on this kickoff team.’”

That’s exactly what he did. He tracked down the Dudley return man, swatted at the ball when he made initial contact to cause a fumble, then pounced on it himself at the 20 yard line. Four plays later, Chase Mitchell hit Spencer Arrowood with a 10-yard touchdown pass to get North within 18-13. Mitchell connected with Jordan Santana for a 2-point conversion, and all of a sudden the Knights — who were dominated and dejected in the first half — had new life.

The big plays kept on coming. Dudley drove right back down the field on its next possession, and Hayes’ 29-yard pass to Connel Young gave the Panthers first-and-goal at the North 3. But the Knights stonewalled Hayes on four straight carries that actually lost four yards, giving the ball right back to the Knights’ offense.

Feeding off that momentum, North’s offense marched 94 yards on 15 plays that chewed over seven minutes off the game clock. Tevin Tuttle got things going with a 16-yard run, and Dudley was slapped with a crucial pass interference penalty on third-and-14. On the first play of the fourth quarter, North faced fourth-and-1 from the Dudley 42. Conlee Hunter took a handoff and ran right up the gut behind Shy Tuttle, the 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive end who entered the game at fullback, and picked up 14 yards. Four plays later, Hunter gashed the middle of the Panthers’ defense again for a 5-yard touchdown run the gave the Knights their first lead of the evening, 22-18 with 10:08 left to play.

While Holcomb emphasized doing the little things well, the stretch that swung the game featured big play after big play. “The momentum-changer down here in the end zone, that was huge,” he said. “Then we get points out of it; we had a 90-yard drive, when we stopped them down here. That’s a great momentum-changer.”

Hoots, right on cue, kept the momentum going North’s way. The Knights forced a three-and-out on Dudley’s next possession, on a drive that started at the Panther’s 6 after a block in the back on the kickoff return. Standing in his own end zone, punter Ely-Jah Harris couldn’t handle the snap and Hoots rushed in to recover the fumble for another touchdown. Just like that, North led 29-18 and Dudley was done.

Shy Tuttle tacked on a 6-yard touchdown run set up by Tevin Tuttle’s interception with 4:37 left on the clock. North forced a turnover on downs with 1:29 to play up 36-18, but Mitchell couldn’t handle a high snap and Dudley’s Neasza Fewell recovered to set up Darius Graves’ 10-yard scoring run. Graves’ 2-point conversion provided the final score, as Hoots recovered the onside kick to seal the win.

North couldn’t have asked for a worse start. After being flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for something that occurred as they ran from the end zone to the sideline, North fumbled on its first snap as a high snap sailed over Mitchell’s head. Hayes hit Emanuel Mosley for a 17-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-15 to give the visitors a shocking 6-0 lead just two minutes into the game. The Panthers put together a methodical drive that took up half of the second quarter, capped off by Hayes’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Edward Moseley on third-and-goal.

North finally made something happen, as Hunter’s 50-yard run set up Tevin Tuttle’s 18-yard jaunt to paydirt to get the Knights within 12-7 with 4:34 left in the half. But the Panthers came right back, driving 80 yards for a score as Hayes hit Edward Moseley for another score — this one from 15 yards out to give the Panthers an 18-7 lead at the half.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or