PREP FOOTBALL: Warriors drop another tight one at home, 43-35

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The West Point Warriors fell to the Hayden Wildcats, 43-35. (Bill Piper for The Cullman Tribune)

WEST POINT, Ala. – Friday night’s game pitting West Point against Hayden was messy and about as hot and cold as an Alabama fall. Another swampy setting removed the Warrior passing game and forced both teams to turn to the running game in what would prove to be another nail biter all the way to the end, with the Warriors coming up short, 43-35.

West Point has created a habit of getting behind two scores and then turning on the jets. Friday night was no different. Hayden found the end zone on its first play of the game when a Wildcat slipped behind defenders on a play-action pass and was wide open for a 66-yard touchdown. After a quick, stalling drive by West Point, Hayden put together a nine-play, 62-yard drive, all on the ground, ending with a 14-0 first-quarter lead. 

Senior quarterback Will Cochran and running back Kelton Washington woke up the Warrior offense driving down the field on several long runs, ending with a 4-yard touchdown run by Cochran. With the score 14-7 Hayden fumbled the first play of its next drive and Ashton Thraikill pounced on it, giving West Point the ball on the Wildcat 14-yard line. Two Washington runs later, and it was a 14-14 game. 

A big return was wiped away by a penalty and Hayden ended up punting after a quick three-and-out. Senior Carter Thornton made a key sealing block on the opening play of the drive that sprung a 51-yard run by Washington. Just a couple plays later Cochran threw his lone touchdown pass of the game for 11 yards to fellow senior Kobe Bowers. 

After giving up 21 straight points, Hayden found itself fouth-and-5 in its own territory. The Wildcats dialed up a fake punt that got the first down and led to a 29-yard touchdown by senior running back Carson Rickels. Call him Carson Nickels on this night because he went on to find the end zone a jaw dropping five times, four on the ground and one on a reception. 

West Point fumbled the kickoff only to have Hayden recover. Ultimately, penalties ended the drive, which is a key note of the game. Friday’s game saw a total of 26 penalties. With only one minute left West Point was unable to move the ball down the field to score and it was a 21-21 tie after the first half.

The Warriors received the ball to start the second half but were forced to punt on fourth-and-long. A bobbled snap on the punt lead to a huge loss and handed the Wildcats the ball at the 20-yard line in Warrior territory. Just like West Point did, Hayden found the end zone two plays later to take a 28-21 lead. 

West Point responded with a 12-play drive that ended up leaving the Warriors at fourth-and-20 in Wildcat territory. Unfortunately, the dime dropped by Cochran was dropped at the back of the end zone, which was another trend for the game. Both squads had multiple dropped touchdown passes. Hayden’s next drive ended in a dropped touchdown pass. The wet conditions really affected receivers’ ability to get a squeeze on the ball. 

Thornton went from blocker to runner and opened the Warrior drive with a 60-yard touchdown run, but this time West Point ran Cochran up the middle for the two-point conversion and a 29-28 lead. On the next two possessions Hayden and West Point traded punches, each scoring on 5-yard plays. Hayden got its two-point conversion, but Bowers was stopped just short on West Point’s attempt, making it 36-35 Hayden. 

Hayden went eight plays and 65 yards to have Rickels find the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown pass. After an extra point West Point trailed 35-43 with the ball and four minutes left on the clock. Washington continued to pound the ball on the drive behind tremendous blocking from his line and receivers, but the last chance slipped away on a deep ball falling in Wildcat hands. Hayden went on to run out the clock. 

Washington had a career night finishing with 23 carriers, 203 yards and one touchdown. Cochran accounted for three total touchdowns, two on the ground and one in the air.

After another down to the wire loss Coach Don Farley had this to say: “It’s coming down to a few plays a game and we aren’t making the plays.”

West Point (0-5) goes on the road for the first time in a month next week to play region foe Crossville (0-5).

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