West Stokes football has been to the second round of the state playoffs seven out of the last nine years including a 2AA NCHSAA State Championship in 2011. Friday night’s 49-14 second round loss to number one seed, East Duplin Panthers ended another successful season for the Wildcats, who finished with a 9-4 record.
“Honestly, if someone would have told me at the beginning of the season, we would have won nine games this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” said Wildcat coach Jimmy Upchurch. “We always have high expectations coming into every season, but I knew we would be young on the offensive side of the ball by starting so many underclassmen. We have had great leadership by our seniors and that has been the difference in a six-win season and nine.”
The Wildcats started the game as they have 12 of the 13 games this season, by scoring first. After forcing a turnover on downs and a forced fumble, West used a 13-play drive that covered 72-yards and scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Smith to Dustin Blevins with 1:16 left in the first quarter. Caleb Peters connected on his first of two extra points in the game for a 7-0 lead.
East Duplin started the second quarter with an 8-yard dash to the end zone. Chris Benson scored his first of three touchdowns and Jesus Navarro spilt the upright for the 7-7 tie.
The Panthers went on to score two more touchdowns in the period on Melvin Scott’s 87-yard run and a 6-yard scamper to the end zone for a 21-7 halftime lead.
“I didn’t want the kids to give up,” Upchurch said. “East Duplin is one of the fastest and arguably one of the best teams I’ve coached against. I told them at halftime to play hard and not have any regrets. Leave it all on the field and that is what they did.”
In the third quarter, the Wildcats only ran six offensive plays compared to the home team, who ran 20. With 1:10 left in the period, Smith found sophomore Chris Brown on a screen pass that he took to pay dirt from 58-yards out. Peter’s extra-point made the score 35-14.
East Duplin tallied two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter by Benson and Jalen Mitchell. Navarro made his sixth and seventh extra-point of the game for the final score.
Brown led the Wildcats with 50-yards rushing, 121-yards receiving and one touchdown. Smith threw for 231-yards on 14-of-27 with no interceptions and two touchdowns. Tyler Walker added to his record breaking season of tackles with a game record of 31 against the Panthers. His season total of 224 shattered the previous record of Zach Manley’s 169. Walker ended his high school career with a record of 563-tackles, 101 coming for a loss, both school records. Jordan Smith finished his Wildcat career with 12-tackles and nose guard Mackenzie Rowell 11.
“There will never be another Ty Walker come through West Stokes,” Upchurch said. “He has been an extension of a coach on the field. He reads and plays the game so fluently. He is one of the most coachable kids I have ever had and he will go far in life. This senior class as a whole has been very enjoyable to be around and coach. They will be missed.”
Robert Money can be reached at 336-749-1193.