Missed opportunities cost Rams in loss to Hoke County

·5 min read

Apr. 2—PEMBROKE — Playing their closest game in a difficult season Thursday, the Purnell Swett football team had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter against Hoke County.

But missed opportunities on both sides of the ball proved costly for the Rams in a 31-20 loss.

"We had several opportunities earlier in the game to do some things," Purnell Swett coach Stephen Roberson said. "We missed some plays early. We kept them third-and-long, and kept letting them off the hook, couldn't get off the field, and that always catches up with you later on. ... We never felt like we were out of it, the kids fought hard, and I'm grateful for the seniors that led us all year and really played well tonight."

Defensively, Purnell Swett (0-5, 0-5 Sandhills Athletic Conference) struggled on third downs late in the game. Hoke County (2-4, 2-4 SAC) was 6-for-12 for the game on third down, including 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter and 3-for-4 on their final scoring drive, which culminated in the touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Purnell Swett had just scored on a 43-yard Jermaine McNeill run to pull to a 24-20 deficit with 8:38 remaining before the Bucks went on a 14-play, 78-yard drive that included three third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion. A 20-yard pass from Kamonte Williams to Kasheim Teller made it a 31-20 game with 2:01 to play.

"We had them third-and-14 and just let them off the hook," Roberson said. "Those are things that we'll have to get better at, and become better tacklers. I think some of it was strength; we have to get in the weight room and get stronger. But we have a good group of guys that work hard."

Offensively, perhaps the Rams' biggest missed opportunity of the night came in the second quarter. With Purnell Swett trailing 7-6 after a quarter, Jayden Kegler recovered a Hoke County fumble at the Rams' 10-yard line on the second play of the second period. After two completions from Nathaniel Henderson to Lakota Locklear, Henderson was intercepted — but Hoke County fumbled back to Purnell Swett later in the same play, as Zeke Snell recovered.

But the drive ended with a punt from midfield, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Hoke County's Matthew Leach for a 14-6 lead with 7:37 left in the half.

"When you start thinking about the missed opportunities — we turned them over twice in the first half, and I don't think we capitalized on either one," Roberson said. "Just a lot of missed opportunities tonight, and Hoke stayed true to who they were, and they fought and made plays when they had the opportunities, and we missed a couple."

The game was the season finale for Purnell Swett due to two games next week — Monday at Lumberton, Friday vs. Richmond — being canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

"The kids never quit, and persevered all year through a tough season," Roberson said of his first season with the Rams. "Our schedule was not as fluid as others. We started the season in (COVID) protocol, so we had maybe six consecutive weeks of football work."

Zeke Snell rushed for 122 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown and made several key defensive plays in his final high school game. Henderson completed four passes for 128 yards, including three to Locklear for 80 yards.

Purnell Swett had five plays of 24 yards or more in the game after struggling to find big plays on offense for much of the season.

"We knew they were going to be very aggressive up front, and we knew they were going to blitz us because we struggled all year with blitzes," Roberson said. "We put in a couple of screens and a couple of draw plays that we were able to pop, and it worked great; we used their aggression against them on the reverse that went for a score. We were just a couple of plays here and there, on defense and offense, from winning this game."

Hoke County quarterback Warren Avery rushed 20 times for 114 yards and completed 10 of 13 passes for 102 yards. Teller caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

The Bucks scored on their opening drive on a 15-yard Michael Holmes run. Two Purnell Swett drives later the Rams answered with a 48-yard scoring pass from Henderson to Snell with 6:01 left in the first quarter.

Other than Leach's blocked punt return, there was no other scoring the rest of the first half, though Hoke County did miss a 36-yard field goal attempt as the half expired.

Snell scored on the second play of the second half on a 79-yard run; the two-point try, which would have tied the score, failed, and Hoke County retained the lead at 14-12. The Bucks added a 30-yard Malachi Harris field goal to take a 17-12 lead to the fourth quarter.

A 1-yard Devontre Daniels touchdown run increased Hoke County's lead to 24-12 with 9:32 to go, before the Rams scored on McNeill's endaround run less than a minute later. After Hoke's long scoring drive, Purnell Swett turned the ball over on downs and the Bucks ran out the clock.

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.