October 30, 2009 9:06:00 AM
ABERDEEN -- The regular-season finale Thursday night between the Aberdeen and Nettleton High School football teams for the Class 3A, Region 2, District 1 championship featured a classic teacher-pupil matchup that pitted a pair of coordinators -- Mike Hathcock of the Tigers and the Bulldogs'' Kris Pickle -- against each other.
As often happens, the pupil emerged victorious, as Aberdeen topped Nettleton 30-6.
The game was moved to Thursday night in anticipation of tonight''s predicted inclement weather.
Pickle, Aberdeen''s offensive coordinator, and Hathcock, Nettleton''s defensive coordinator, matched wits on a nearly even basis in the first half, but the Bulldogs'' offense took center stage in the second half.
"Defensively, we played pretty good the first half," said Hathcock, who coached Pickle at Hatley High. "Aberdeen has an explosive, big-play offense which is fueled by their quickness, and the bottom line is there''s no substitute for speed."
The Bulldogs took an 8-0 lead at intermission thanks to a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Andrews to Jamerson Love 29 seconds into the second quarter. Andrews connected with Eric Buchanan on the two-point conversion.
The second half was a different story, as the Bulldogs (9-2, 5-0 district) scored 22 points on three drives and five plays to account for the final score.
"Kris did a good job," Hathcock said. "The last touchdown they scored was the right call at the right time."
Aberdeen''s vaunted offense notwithstanding, it was Patrick Schoolar''s defense that grabbed the spotlight in the division-clinching win..
"They say defense wins championships and that certainly was the case tonight," Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan said. "Other than one play, we totally dominated them and completely shut a very good offensive team down."
Despite not gaining a first down until two minutes into the second half, the Tigers (8-3, 3-2) made a game of it for two quarters, as the Bulldogs blundered their way through five of their six first-half possessions.
"We didn''t play well at all offensively in the first half," said Duncan, whose club lost a sure touchdown on a goal-line fumble on its initial possession, bobbled two other snaps, was flagged for three illegal procedure and two holding penalties, had two passes nearly intercepted, and had 45 yards in losses on three plays.
But Schoolar''s defensive unit turned in a stellar performance by not allowing a first down and forcing five first-half punts. The Bulldogs also made five stops and/or sacks for 38 yards in losses, didn''t allow a pass completion, held the Tigers to -16 yards rushing on 11 carries, and added an exclamation point with an interception on the final play of the second quarter.
"Our defense has been good all year and has kept us in every game," said Duncan, who praised defensive linemen Fred Ward, Andrea Jernigan, and Channing Ward for controlling the line of scrimmage. "We put five in the box and they (Nettleton) couldn''t move the football, and if we can continue to play like that defensively, we can continue to win."
Nettleton coach Jack Clark had no explanation for his team''s woeful first-half performance.
"We played as poorly on offense as we have all year," Clark said. "We did not execute and, as a result, it was our worst game of the year. Aberdeen''s defense played a big part in that."
Although Nettleton''s offense was all but non-existent the first half, the Tigers had one chance to narrow the gap when Andrews, the punter, was downed at the Bulldogs 17-yard line with less than four minutes left in the second quarter. But a holding penalty, a 5-yard mark-off for illegal procedure, and an 8-yard sack of quarterback Anthony Franklin by Anthony Bean pushed the Tigers back to the 39 and brought on punter Joe Sullivan for his fifth boot of the half.
The second-half scoring drives on both sides boiled down to seven plays.
The first came a two-play, 52-yard drive by Aberdeen, which culminated in a 50-yard touchdown sprint by Love, followed by a Victor Hodges two-point conversion run that made it 16-0 with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth period, the Bulldogs needed one play to go up 22-0 when Love gathered a short pass from Andrews near the Nettleton sideline, cut back to the right, and scampered 57 yards for his third and final touchdown jaunt. Decedrick Quinn then bulled his way in on the conversion for a 24-0 lead with 9:47 remaining.
Nettleton answered 59 seconds later with its longest gain of the night, a second down, 56-yard touchdown burst by Franklin to make it 24-6, but the Tigers failed to convert the conversion pass.
After an exchange of possessions, Hodges bolted 42 yards on second down for the Bulldogs'' final points with 2:13 left on the clock.
"I wouldn''t say we played that great on offense," Duncan said. "But we did manage to break three (touchdowns) there in the second half to give us some breathing room."
Aberdeen finished with 86 yards rushing, but Andrews threw for 238 yards on a 14-for-23 effort to give the Bulldogs 324 total yards.
Buchanan was Andrews'' favorite target, with five catches for 101 yards, including a 68-yarder on the Bulldogs'' first possession.
Nettleton had 93 total yards (53 rushing on 28 carries and 40 passing).
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