This is a season for ending streaks – some darn bad ones – at Hixson.
First, the Wildcats knocked off rival Red Bank, 36-35, with a miraculous comeback on Sept. 14 that ended eight years of frustration against the Lions.
On Friday night at Bob Evans Stadium, Hixson bounced back from a 42-13 loss at DeKalb County by upending Tyner, 28-19, posting a victory over the Rams for the first time since 1991.
Tyner had won six in a row over the Wildcats and 13 of the last 14 meetings, although the two teams have met just seven times since Hixson last won – that was a 12-7 decision 21 years ago.
“This is huge,” said Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald, who is in his first season with the Wildcats. “We’re getting wins we haven’t gotten before.”
Not only did the victory snap the Tyner jinx, it pushed the Wildcats (4-2, 3-0) into first place in District 6-AA, just ahead of East Hamilton (5-1, 2-0), which bombed struggling East Ridge, 42-0, in a non-district game. Hixson goes to East Hamilton next Friday for what could be a district title showdown.
“Like I said after the Red Bank game,” Fitzgerald said, “can we handle it? You have to handle defeat and victory. How are we going to handle this victory getting ready for East Hamilton?”
The Wildcats, who haven’t had a winning season since 2006 or reached the playoffs in 13 years, are doing pretty well in both categories mentioned by Fitzgerald.
After losing to Walker Valley in the season opener, Hixson beat Howard, Marion County and Red Bank. Following the 42-13 dismantling by DeKalb County last week, the Wildcats rebounded in impressive fashion against the Rams (4-2, 2-1).
“I can’t even explain it,” said senior wide receiver/safety Allante Novene, who caught five passes for 132 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown reception to open the scoring. “There are a lot of sports we don’t beat Tyner in, but we got them this year in football. And I’m proud to say we beat them and I helped do it.”
Tyner, which plays Central next week before taking on East Hamilton on Oct. 12, gave the Wildcats’ defense headaches with a highly effective isolation play to the left side throughout the second half. The Rams gained 172 of their 257 rushing yards after halftime.
However, when the Rams defense needed a fourth-quarter stop the Wildcats unleashed their best drive of the game – a 42-yarder in 12 plays that ran 5 minutes and 55 seconds off the clock.
Hixson quarterback Gill Brown capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and with J.R. Walker’s fourth extra point the Wildcats opened a two-score lead at 28-19 with 4:08 left.
“We needed some big plays and we got a few,” said Brown, who converted four third-down plays in the drive with three runs and one pass to Kedrick Bradley – those clutch plays accounted for 16 of the 42 yards.
“They outplayed us,” Tyner coach Wayne Turner said. “You have to give Hixson credit. They outhustled us, they were sharper and they executed better than us tonight.”
A burst of three turnovers in a span of 1 minute, 37 seconds momentarily rattled both teams.
Tyner lost the ball on downs when it failed on a fourth-and-one at its own 47.
Three plays later, Hixson’s Brown was intercepted by Tyner’s Haasan Miller at the Rams’ 22.
Two plays after that, the Rams’ Joseph Sturkey, who led all rushers with 94 yards on 10 carries, fumbled and Hixson’s Bradley recovered at the Tyner 42.
Then the Wildcats went to work.
On third-and-one, Brown gained 3 yards.
On another third-and-one, Brown got 2 yards.
On third-and-six from the Rams’ 15, Brown hooked up with Bradley on a 10-yard gain.
On third-and-goal, Brown scored from the 1, ending a pivotal drive with his 1-yard sneak and the Wildcats pushed their lead to became the final nine-point margin.
“That drive was very clutch,” said Brown, who was 8 for 14 for 157 yards. “The linemen stepped up, blocked hard and we ran hard. This means a lot to us. We haven’t beaten these guys in 21 years, so it’s great.”
Novene, who helped Hixson’ track team win a 4x400 state championship last spring, could barely contain his excitement after helping spoil Tyner’s homecoming festivities.
“I know if we play to our full potential we can beat anybody,” he said. “This is probably the first time we put four quarters together. When we play our best, you can see what happens. It’s on the scoreboard.”
In lights. Hixson 28, Tyner 19.
Two plays after Hixson’s victory-sealing touchdown, Novene picked off Haasan Miller’s pass.
“I told the defense it was time to make a statement,” Fitzgerald said. “We gave up 19 points to Tyner, but we had a great defensive effort and our kids did what we asked them to do.”
Said Novene of his interception: “I knew they were going to throw it. The best thing for me to do was make a play so we could run out the clock.”
Tyner wound up with 318 yards of total offense, 257 coming on 36 rushes, a majority coming on the isolation play.
The Wildcats decided to offset Tyner’s run game with their own passing attack that averaged 19.6 yards per play.
It all started with the Brown-to-Novene seam-buster that gave Hixson a 7-0 lead with 5:25 left in the opening quarter.
Almost half of Hixson’s rushing yardage came on Isaiah Robinson’s 56-yard touchdown run – quick hitter up the middle – early in the second quarter, pushing the Wildcats’ lead to 14-0.
On Hixson’s next possession, with momentum on its side, Brown faked a punt on fourth-and-four at the Wildcats’ 40. He gained 3 yards.
Tyner then played like it had just guzzled a five-hour energy drink. The Rams drove 43 yards in five plays with Sturkey scoring from 24 yards out. Tyner felt a lot better going to the locker room at halftime trailing by just 14-7.
The second half started poorly for the Rams.
A “pooch” kickoff bounced around between Tyner players and Hixson smothered it at the Rams’ 38.
Two plays netted Hixson exactly zero yards. On third-and-10, Brown threw to Novene for a 33-yard gainer. Novene was hit at the 4 and the ball bounced out of bounds at the 2.
Brown scored on the next play, pushing the Wildcats’ lead to 21-7.
“I thought we’d have a hard time running the football,” Fitzgerald said. “If we had an advantage it would be in the passing game with Allante. We got enough time to throw it to him and we connected on a few passes. Gill is getting better every week.”
But Tyner wouldn’t go away.
The Rams started a 49-yard scoring drive with Courtney Heard’s 33-yard run and Kalan Hardley scored five plays later from the 1 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
When the extra-point kick failed, Tyner trailed 21-13.
Hardley was hardly finished, though.
The sophomore running back capped a quick 79-yard, four-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run at the 4:38 mark and Tyner pulled within 21-19 after a two-point pass conversion went awry. Sturkey started the drive with a 49-yard scamper to the Hixson 20.
The fourth quarter began with the quick series of turnovers and then Hixson’s 42-yard drive sealed the deal.
“We have to regroup,” Turner said, “get refocused and be ready to get back on the right track next week.”
Hixson 7 7 7 7 – 28
Tyner 0 7 6 6 – 19
HIX – Allante Novene 43 pass from Gill Brown (J.R. Walker kick), 5:25
HIX – Isaiah Robinson 56 run (Walker kick), 9:55
TYN – Joseph Sturkey 24 run (Kevin Cortez kick), 4:33
HIX – Brown 2 run (Walker kick), 10:57
TYN – Kalan Hardley 1 run (kick failed), 8:40
TYN – Hardley 3 run (pass failed), 4:38
HIX – Brown 1 run (Walker kick), 4:08
First Downs 10 11
Rushes-Yds. 42-121 36-257
Passing Yds. 157 61
Com.-Att.-Int. 8-14-1 4-9-1
Total Yds 278 318
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Punts.-Avg. 6-42.2 4-36.2
Penalties-Yds. 5-21 6-51
RUSHING — Hixson: Gill Brown 12-15, Kedrick Bradley 14-37, Isaiah Robinson 15-70, Team 1-minus 1; Tyner: Joseph Sturkey 10-94, Courtney Heard 4-40, Kalan Hardley 7-40, Lamonte Solomon 3-35, Haasan Miller 5-28, Antonio Williams 2-12, Willie Stewart 4-8, Sadik Spence 1-7.
PASSING — Hixson: Brown 8-14-1 157; Tyner: Stewart 3-4-0 37, Sturkey 1-5-1 24.
RECEIVING — Hixson: Allante Novene 5-132, Bradley 2-14, Allen Diaz 1-11; Tyner: Miller 1-30, Spence 1-24, Jarrett Watson 1-6, Miller 1-1.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)