BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
SPORTS EDITOR EMERITUS
South Greene Coach Shawn Jones best summed up Friday night's football game in one word: frustrating.
The Rebels saw their post-season playoff hopes probably go up in smoke, just like the steam coming off everybody's breath on a frigid night, as they dropped a 48-41 thriller to the Hampton Bulldogs.
The season record for South Greene dipped to 3-6, and a win over Hampton would have likely given the Rebels enough push to get them into the post-season. But in a season that has seen South Greene lose a lot of close ones, this one turned out frighteningly familiar to Reb fans.
"I just hate it for the kids, especially our seniors," Coach Jones said on the field after the game. "They've worked so hard and have come so far since last year. We've been in every game we've played. We just can't seem to win the close ones."
South Greene got off to a horrible start in this one, falling behind the perennial conference champs 21-0, but they battled back and got things even, only to see the Bulldogs score late to ice the victory and set the stage for next week's showdown with Carter County rival Cloudland for the Mountain East championship.
"It was a bad start, but we got back in it, and we had our chances," Jones said. "We thought going down to Class A this year that we could compete with everybody, and we can, but we just couldn't get the lead."
The two teams are old Watauga Conference foes and used to play every year, but this was the first meeting since 2004.
Senior quarterback Hunter Waddell turned in a stellar performance on both offense and defense. He threw three interceptions, but he accounted for six touchdowns, three by running and three by passing. He made 19 tackles on defense at his safety position, and that was because the run-oriented Hampton offense was breaking off big plays from the line of scrimmage.
The main culprit was a talented freshman, Adam McClain, who finished with 224 yds. on 35 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Colby Jones threw to Tristan Robinson for two scores and ran for two more touchdowns as Hampton finished with 483 yds. of offense, 362 rushing. The Rebs had 254 total yards.
South Greene finally drew even with Hampton at 35-35 on a 9-yd. run by Waddell with 11:07 left in the game. But they couldn't stop Hampton.
The Bulldogs answered with a 63-yd. drive, sparked by runs from McClain, to score on a 4-yd. bolt by the freshman with 7:01 left in the game, and big Boo Dugger knocked through the extra point to put Hampton back up 42-35.
Here came the Rebels right back, moving 37-yds. in 7 plays after Preston Shuffler returned the kickoff 35 yds. Waddell scrambled for 19 yds. for the big play, then passed 9 yds. to Justin Casteel, who tip-toed the sidelines to make the grab on a huge third down play to gain a first and goal at the 6. Waddell scored on a roll-out to his left from the 1-yd. line to get the TD.
Both kickers, Dugger of Hampton and Austin Cedillo of South Greene, had been perfect all night. But this time Hampton's Dillon Ford broke through to block Cedillo's PAT and leave Hampton with a 42-41 lead with 3:33 still to play.
The Rebels were unable to stop Hampton's runners as Ford came up with runs of 12, 28 and finally a 12-yd. sprint for what proved to be the clinching score with just 1:56 left on the clock. The Bulldogs did stop Ford when Hampton surprisingly went for a two-point conversion, but the Dogs led 48-41.
South Greene was unable to answer this time. Ford came up with his third interception of the night with under a minute left to play, and Hampton was able to take a knee and run out the clock as the Rebs were out of time outs.
Hampton scored on their first three possessions of the game to take a 21-0 lead. McClain scored on a 2-yd. blast after the opening kickoff, ending a 65-yd. drive in 12 plays. Ford came up with his first pick of the night on South Greene's second down from scrimmage, setting up a quick Hampton score when Jones tallied from a yard out.
The Rebels had to punt after a long pass from Waddell to Shuffler was nullified by a procedure penalty, and the Dogs drove 80 yds. to make it 21-0 when Jones broke free on a 41-yd. touchdown run.
South Greene finally broke their scoring drought when Tim Lightfoot made a spectacular 41-yd. touchdown reception from Waddell on a fourth down and 14 play from the 41. Lightfoot out-muscled a Hampton defender and hauled in the pass and rolled into the end zone.
The home team got the ball right back when Austin Hoyle recovered an onsides kick and South Greene took advantage with Waddell going to the air for a 31-yd. completion to Shuffler and a 10-yd. TD strike to Casteel in the corner of the end zone. Suddenly it was a ball game with the Rebs trailing 21-14.
Penalties (13 for 121 yds.) haunted Hampton all night and prevented another possible score after they drove into the red zone on their ensuing possession. But after turning over the ball on downs Ford got his second interception of the night near midfield and Hampton scored again before intermission. Jones passed 4-yds. to Robinson for the TD with only 11 seconds left on the clock to take a 28-14 advantage.
South Greene took the second half kickoff and immediately marched to score. Waddell scored on a 1-yd. keeper. He set up the score with a 17-yd. pass to Lightfoot and some hard running by Shuffler. That closed the gap to 28-21.
Hampton answered again with Jones throwing 11 yds. to Robinson for the score, moving 50 yds. in eight plays to regain a 35-21 lead.
The Bulldogs tried an onsides kick that didn't work and gave the Rebs good field position at midfield. Waddell rambled 19 yds. after picking up a fumble by a teammate in the backfield. He threw 19 yds. to Casteel for the touchdown and a 35-28 deficit after the PAT.
Hampton was finally forced to punt (each team punted only once in the game). South Greene started at their 32 and moved for the tying score, a drive that was helped along by an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Bulldog sidelines and a 15-yd. face mask penalty.
Waddell scored on a 9-yd. keeper that leveled the score at 35-35, setting the stage for a furious finish.
For the game Waddell was 8-of-13 for 141 yds. and three touchdowns. Waddell added 56 yds. rushing and three more scores. Shuffler got 54 yds. on the ground and caught three passes for 45 yds. Lightfoot had two catches for 58 yds. and a TD. Casteel grabbed three passes for 38 yds. and two scores.
South Greene will close out the season next Friday night at home to Hancock County. The game was originally set as a road trip for the Rebels, but a scheduling snafu by Hancock and the fact they have already started renovating their football stadium allowed the game to be moved to South Greene.