CHAPEL HILL – Hibriten High finished unbeaten, knocking off East Duplin 16-14 on Saturday in the state 2AA title game at North Carolina to become the first state prep football champion from Caldwell County (see graphic below).
In a battle of teams both nicknamed Panthers, Hibriten (West No. 2 seed) won to finish 16-0 under head coach Clay Lewis by using a bend-but-don’t-break defense and an outstanding performance on special teams.
East Duplin, the East No. 1 seed, finished 15-1.
Hibriten had to erase an early deficit at UNC’s Kenan Stadium, falling behind 7-0 when East Duplin’s Melvin Scott scored on an 81-yard TD with a bit more than eight minutes to play in the first quarter.
Scott was named East Duplin’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player after finishing with 108 rushing yards on three carries.
The teams trade possessions uneventfully until East Duplin intercepted a pass at its 2 early in the second quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, Chris Benson was nabbed for a 2-yard loss and a safety, cutting East Duplin’s lead to 7-2.
After a free kick, Hibriten used a halfback pass from McKinley Witherspoon to a wide-open Miles Simon to take a 9-7 lead with 9:26 left in the first half.
Later in the quarter, Simon hauled in a 43-yard pass from quarterback Jaylen Scott for another TD to extend Hibriten’s lead to 16-7 with 1:53 to go in the half.
Simon was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, hauling in two passes for 96 yards and two scores.
East Duplin made a last push, driving 99 yards on 20 plays in the fourth quarter. The drive was capped by a 1-yard TD run by Benson to make it 16-14.
Despite outgaining Hibriten 359-190 yards, East Duplin just couldn’t overcome the tough field position it found itself in most of the day.
Hibriten punter Noah Haney, who punted six times, averaged 46 yards per punt to keep East Duplin on its side of the field most of the night. Five of his punts were downed inside the 20 and three of those were inside the 10.
Haney was named Hibriten’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
The Defensive Award for Most Outstanding Player for Hibriten went to Charles Tassinari, who had 16 tackles, including an assist on a tackle for loss.
East Duplin’s most outstanding player defensively was Amaru Herring, who registered 10 tackles that included three for lost yardage.