By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Football teams don’t win championships in week 2, but Greenville High’s 22-21 victory over Hickory Friday night was no run-of-the-mill regular-season variety rally.
“ ... A D-10 championship is our goal,” related Trojans’ 2-touchdown playmaker Luke Houpt, following the District 10 Region 3-AA opening road win at Hornet Stadium. “We were waiting for this moment (Friday) night, and it came, it showed the second half.”
There was a time in Greenville’s great gridiron annals when a 21-0 halftime deficit was essentially a death sentence. Friday night, however, Trey VanAken altered the momentum with his 65-yard, 3rd-quarter scoring sprint.
Then in the decisive 4th frame Zach Miller sacked Stingers’ signal-caller Matt Voytik for a safety, and Matt Jones collaborated with Houpt on 10- and 40-yard scoring strikes. Jones, Houpt and Gage Gladysz gobbled interceptions of Voytik, also — the latter with 41 ticks to play.
“I’m just very, very proud of our kids,” Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick admitted. “We challenged them at halftime. I thought we played very, very poorly in the first half, but you have to give a lot of credit to Hickory — they’re very hard to defend. But I thought we gave them a number of opportunities.
“And I challenged (the Trojans) at halftime: ‘I don’t care what the scoreboard says, let’s get out there and play hard,’ and I thought they did that.”
“The one thing I just said to them in there,” Hickory headmaster Bill Brest admitted upon exiting a postgame team meeting, “was, we were up 21-6, but the look in your eyes ... you weren’t acting like you were up 21-6. We’ve got a couple new guys playing, and we just told them, ‘You’ve gotta find a way to finish the game the right way,’ and we didn’t.”
A trio of Trojans’ turnovers led directly to 1st-half Hickory harvests.
Zach Cirillo covered a Jones fumble, and on the ensuing play Voytik and Andrew Pryts teamed up for a 28-yard TD toss with 3:31 remaining in the 1st frame. Then Pryts pilfered Jones’ 3rd-and-14 pass from Greenville’s 16-yard line. Two plays later Voytik scrambled for the score with 3:25 remaining to intermission.
Twenty-one seconds later Anthony Cannone copped a Jones pass and weaved his way 47 yards for a Pick-6, and the 3rd of Jordan Wombacker’s trio of PATs extended Hickory’s halftime lead to 21-0.
At intermission Greenville had gained 32 total yards on 22 snaps.
“The first half, I thought we had some things that were working; we just couldn’t quite click,” Herrick related. “But the pass protection the second half was good, and (offensive coordinator) Mike Menold did a heckava job calling the game. I thought the second half he was able to mix it up.
“We needed a run play we could hang our hat on, and we did that the second half,” Herrick continued. “We got a little counter goin’ and I thought that helped us.”
While Voytik victimized Greenville for a 6-for-10, 69-yard, 1st-half passing performance, he completed half of his 18 second-half attempts, but 3 of his final 5 throws were grabbed by Greenville.
“(Defensive coordinator) Brad Trezona just had a vareity of different ‘looks,’ and we were bringing people from a variety of different angles, and I thought that helped,” Herrick continued, admitting, “and, we were lucky, too. (Voytik’s) as good a quarterback as we’ve seen. We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win, but we’ll take it.”
Jones enjoyed a 2nd-half role reversal, but more fortuitous than Voytik. After a 1-for-5 first-half showing and 2 interceptions, Jones jolted Hickory for an 8-for-14, 100-yard 2nd-half performance that included the 2 TDs to Houpt.
The former — a play-action pass on 4th-and-6 from Hickory’s 10-yard line — was threaded over Pryts and Davon Tindall with 8:59 left, getting Greenville (1-0, 2-0) within 21-15. Following Jones’ interception of Voytik, the 2nd score occurred immediately after Jones’ 4th-and-1 sneak from Hickory’s 42 on 4th-and-1 sustained the drive. On the very next play he threw to the back of the end zone, and 6-foot-1 Houpt out-leaped the 5-10 Tindall. Casey Eells’ 2nd PAT proved to be the difference.
“The only thing I’m really disappointed with us was our penalties (7 for 71 yards),” admitted Brest. “We knew Greenville was a great team that can throw the ball a little bit more this year. They hit one play on us, and that was the ‘fade,’ and that hurt us.
“But the biggest thing I’m upset about,” Brest related, “was that we take pride in field position, and we lost field position, along with some critical penalties and that’s lack of discipline on our part. And field position hurt us in the second half. (The Trojans) got the ball on the plus side of the field a couple times and that hurt us.
“They had a great comeback, we didn’t answer them, but we will be ready to go another day,” Brest promised. “Our goal is to be one-and-oh every week; we weren’t (Friday) night. But we have a ‘grinder’ next week with Wilmington coming to town.
“You’ve gotta take it one week at a time. If you don’t, you’ll lose your mind,” Brest added.
Echoed Herrick, “You’ve gotta win every week. If you win this week and lose next week, this week didn’t matter. So, I want (the Trojans) to enjoy this, this is a big win. But starting (today) we’re gonna focus on next week.”
Last year Greenville garnered a D-10 playoff berth with a late-season 4th-quarter rally against Reynolds, resulting in a 27-26 win. Friday night was similar, and that past experience proved pivotal, Houpt said.
“Yeah, you better believe it! It was kind’ve similar to Reynolds, but ... Hickory’s got a great balllclub. We just came out the second half and put it together,” Houpt said, recalling, “We made the second round last year, lost a heartbreaker to Wilmington (10-9 in OT), and this year we’re looking to got even farther ...”
GREENVILLE 0 0 6 16 22
HICKORY 7 14 0 0 21
H — Pryts, 28 pass from Voytik (Wombacker kick)
H — Voytik, 16 run (Wombacker kick)
H — Cannone, 47 interception return (Wombacker kick)
G — VanAken, 65 run (kick failed)
G — safety (Miller)
G — Houpt, 10 pass from M.Jones (Eells kick)
G — Houpt, 40 pass from M.Jones (Eells kick)
9 First downs 13
130 Rushing yards 83
103 Passing yards 167
19-9-2 Att-comp-int 28-15-3
233 Total yards 250
5-30 Fumbles-lost 3-0
1-1 Penalties-yards lost 7-71
Rushing: GREENVILLE — VanAken 7-96, Nellis 8-29, Black 11-20, Fattman 3-0, M.Jones 6-(-15); HICKORY — Voytik 14-34, Derloni 6-25, Tindall 1-13, Ezi-Ashi 2-12, Carr 1-1.
Passing: GREENVILLE — M.Jones 19-9-2, 103; HICKORY — Voytik 28-15-3, 167.
Receiving: GREENVILLE — Houpt 5-63, Fattman 3-37, VanAken 1-3; HICKORY — Pryts 5-76, Cannone 5-43, Tindall 4-45, Passalinqua 1-3.