Kinston erases 17-point halftime deficit, defeats Greene Central to clinch ECC
Kinston’s Kieren Hooker throws a pass under duress during the Vikings’ 26-24 victory over Greene Central. Photo by William “Bud” Hardy / Neuse News
SNOW HILL — With Kinston’s chance at an undefeated season slipping away, quarterback Kieren Hooker reached out and pulled it back again.
The senior signal caller threw for 199 second-half yards and 2 touchdowns on his 18th birthday as the Vikings rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to stun rival Greene Central 26-24 Friday at the James Fulghum Athletic Complex.
With the win, Kinston (10-0, 6-0 Eastern Carolina 2A Conference), completed the school’s second undefeated regular season (2015), and just the fourth in Lenoir County history.
Hooker had more than a little to do with this year’s feat.
He led the Vikings on three second-half scoring drives, with TD tosses of 9 yards to Justin Holloway and 70 yards to Khari Pitts.
Hooker also connected with Cortez White on a 53-yard strike that set-up the game-winning score, a 1-yard run by Jacel Jacobs with 3:45 left.
“What can I say about Kieren that hasn’t already been said,” Kinston coach Ryan Gieselman said. “He made plays with his arm, he made plays with his feet. He put us on his back in the second half and willed us to win.”
Indeed, Hooker’s two longest completions of the contest were as much a result of his legs as his terrific arm.
Facing a third-and-21 from the Kinston 30, Hooker avoided a near certain sack before scrambling to his right and finding Pitts wide open down the left sideline for a 70-yard TD.
That play, 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, drew the Vikings to within 24-20.
Hooker’s 53-yard hook-up with White was almost a carbon copy of the Pitts scoring pass.
Again, Hooker broke free from a potential sack, sidestepped a couple of would-be tacklers, and then found White, also wide open, at the GC three.
Three plays later, Jacobs tallied the go-ahead score, Kinston’s first lead of the night.
“Kieren made those two long completions happen,” Gieselman said. “He could have easily been sacked both times, but he was able to keep his feet, extend the play, and give our receivers time to get open. Both were just outstanding efforts.”
Jacobs’ go-ahead TD still left the Rams (6-5, 3-3) plenty of time to respond, which they almost did.
Starting at its own 32, GC marched all the way to the Kinston 5 before a faulty exchange between quarterback A.J. Dupree and halfback Knowledge Branch resulted in a fumble, which Kinston recovered with 45.6 ticks left on the clock.
“That’s one of the risks you take with the read option,” GC coach Allen Wooten said. “Sometimes the quarterback holds on to the ball too long, sometimes the running back isn’t ready to take the handoff. There was just a miscommunication there between AJ and Knowledge. The bad thing is that there was a huge hole on that play. Either of them could have scored.”
Branch and Dupree had their way with the Kinston defense most of the night, combining for 210 yards rushing on 40 carries.
Dupree rolled up 96 yards and Branch added 71 in the first half as the Rams took a 24-7 lead into halftime.
The Vikings defense stiffened in the second-half, however, and held GC to 93 yards and no points after allowing 210 rushing yards in the first two quarters.
“(Kinston) did a good job of slowing us down in the second half,” Wooten said. “They adjusted and that’s the mark of a well-coached team. I thought if we could just score once in the second half, we’d have a big enough cushion to hold them off. That proved to be the case, but unfortunately we just couldn’t punch it in.”
Cornelius Smith added 93 yards and a TD on the ground for GC, while Pitts hauled in 6 passes for 131 yards to compliment Hooker for Kinston.
Pitts also picked off a Dupree pass in the end zone that would have given the Rams a two-score advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
“Kids on both sides made big plays,” Gieselman said. “It was an excellent high school football game. We’re fortunate to get out of here with a win.”
Kinston 26, Greene Central 24
Kinston 7 0 7 12—26
Greene Central 8 16 0 0—24
GC—Knowledge Branch 17 run (A.J. Dupree run), 5:40
K—Jacel Jacobs 4 run (Diego Patino kick), 2:39
GC—Dupree 14 run (Branch run), 7:04
GC—Cornelius Smith 24 run (Branch run), 2:26
K—Justin Holloway 9 pass from Kieren Hooker (Patino kick), 4:06
K—Khari Pitts 70 pass from Hooker (Kick failed), 11:45
K—Jacobs 1 run (kick blocked), 3:45
First Downs 13 21
Rushes-yards 27-46 49-303
Passing 12-24-0 2-7-1
Passing yards 280 44
Total yards 326 347
Punts-avg. 1-47.0 3-22.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties 7-51 8-50
RUSHING—Kinston: Justin Holloway 11-30, Cortez White 4-28, Jacel Jacobs 3-9, Demetri Holmes 1-2, Kieren Hooker 9-(minus 3), Team 1-(minus 20). Greene Central: AJ Dupree 19-107, Knowledge Branch 21-103, Cornelius Smith 9-93.
PASSING—Kinston: Hooker 12-24-0 280. Greene Central: Dupree 2-7-1 44.
RECEIVING—Kinston: Khari Pitts 6-131, White 2-86, Jacobs 3-54, Holloway 1-9. Greene Central: Saquan Connor 2-44.