HAMPTON, Tenn. — It was a defensive game for a half. And then Hampton’s offense proved simply unstoppable in the second half.
Mixing power sets with spread formations, the Bulldogs scored three second half touchdowns to claim a 28-14 win over Oneida in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs here Friday night.
Ranked in the Top 10 in the state by the Associated Press, Hampton found itself on the ropes for two quarters and change, as the upset-minded Indians took it to the Bulldogs — similarly to the way Oneida had taken it to Meigs County in a road game three weeks earlier.
But in the end, the obstacles proved too monumental to overcome for an Oneida team that had been back at practice in preparation for the state-ranked Bulldogs for only four days after being forced to suspend its season for the better part of two weeks due to coronavirus concerns.
In a series between two schools with a lot of similarities, Oneida had beaten Hampton six straight times, dating back to a 26-14 win on the same field as Friday night’s game during the Indians’ run to the state semifinals in 2008. Last year, Oneida picked up a 14-12 win at Hampton in the second round of the playoffs, ending the Bulldogs’ season.
Hampton showed it was ready to pull out all the stops in Friday’s game, electing to receive the football after winning the toss, and then dialing up a reverse pass on play number one. The pass was good for 30 yards to spark an early scoring drive, which Aidan Vines capped with a four-yard touchdown run and the early 7-0 lead.
But Oneida fired right back. Kolby Morgan, Oneida’s Mr. Football semifinalist, broke free for a 58-yard scoring run to tie the game, 7-7.
Morgan finished with 119 yards on 18 carries. It marked the eighth time in nine games this season that Morgan eclipsed the century mark. The only exception was at Meigs County, where he was on pace for a 100-yard game before leaving the game with a knee injury late in the second quarter.
The two defenses were the storyline for the remainder of the first half and the start of the second, as neither team could muster much offense.
Hampton got somewhat close to another score by advancing the ball to Oneida’s 35, but on fourth and two, senior Caden Litton came up with a stop in the backfield to thwart the opportunity.
Later, Oneida got somewhat close to a score, getting to Hampton’s 24. But the Bulldogs likewise got a stop in the backfield on fourth down to turn the Indians away, and the first half ended in a 7-7 deadlock.
Having had the opportunity to take the lead late in the first half, Oneida seemed to have the momentum as the third quarter began. The Indians were getting the ball first, with another chance to go on top.
But the Bulldogs’ defense forced Oneida into a 3-and-out. Then Oneida forced Hampton to punt. Then Oneida went 3-and-out again. It appeared the second half would be a continuation of the first half: two great defenses trading blows, waiting on one another two make a mistake.
The breakdown came after the Indians’ second three-and-out, and it proved prophetic words that Oneida head coach Tony Lambert had said earlier in the season. Lambert, who prides himself on special teams preparation, said that his teams have never won a game if they’ve had a punt blocked — something that has happened on only a handful of occasions.
But on the Indians’ second punt attempt of the second half, Hampton did just that, breaking through to block Morgan’s punt, giving itself possession at Oneida’s 26-yard-line with 5:24 to play in the third quarter.
That was the momentum Hampton needed, and the Bulldogs eventually scored on a two-yard run by quarterback Conor Jones.
Again Oneida was able to counter. Morgan broke free for a 45-yard scoring run on the final play of the third quarter — after returning the kickoff to the 44-yard-line and then converting on a fourth-and-three play — to tie the game, 14-14.
But Hampton had found something on the short field after the blocked punt: a consistency moving the football. The Bulldogs scored on their final three possessions of the game, including a five-yard run by Jones to answer Morgan’s score, giving Hampton a 21-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Oneida was then forced to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs, and Jones broke free for a 25-yard scoring run on third and long to seal the game.
Hampton intercepted a pass — the only turnover of the game — on a fourth down play with under a minute remaining to end Oneida’s last-gasp effort.
The Indians ended their season at 4-5. Hampton will travel to Meigs County this week to face the state’s No. 2 team in the second round.