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Hicks leads Whale Branch to improbable win

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Senior RB scores 4 of his 6 TDs in 4th-quarter comeback over Calhoun County

By Mike McCombs

SEABROOK – With Whale Branch trailing Calhoun County, 44-26, at the start of the fourth quarter at home Friday night, senior running back Joseph Hicks, the Warriors’ best offensive player, should have expected to figure heavily in the final 12 minutes if his team was to have a chance.

He only touched the ball four times.

It was enough.

Hicks scored touchdowns on his only four touches of the fourth quarter – four of his six touchdowns – to lead Class 1A No. 4 Whale Branch (1-0) to an improbable 54-50 come-from-behind victory over the Calhoun County Saints (0-1).

Hicks scored on runs of 50, 25 and 8 yards before his 66-yard kickoff return with 1:26 remaining finally gave the Warriors the lead. Then they held on for their lives.

“We knew they couldn’t stop the counter … we ran three consecutive counters in the second half and we scored three touchdowns,” Whale Branch head coach Jerry Hatcher said. “But they’d get the ball right back and they’d go bam, bam, bam.”

And they did.

On their final drive, the Saints used two pass interference penalties and a 24-yard completion from Russell Brunson Jr. to Jamavie Glover to work their way to the Whale Branch 12 with 33 seconds remaining.

“We can’t play football like that,” Hatcher said.

Justen Brunson’s 7-yard run put them in a third-and-3 situation at the Warriors 5 with just 17 seconds left.

Taking a big chance, Calhoun County kept the ball on the ground. But Russell Brunson was stopped after gaining just a yard.

However, a late start to the clock helped the Saints line up in time for one last play. But then Russell Brunson made a mental error. Failing to realize it was fourth down, he grounded the ball to stop the clock instead of running a play, turning the ball over on downs to the Warriors with 6 seconds left.

“It shows we can push through, we can finish,” Hicks said. “We’re all brothers. We were telling each other on the field, keep your head up, be ready for the next play.”

Hicks, a preseason First-Team All-Lowco selection, got his senior year started with authority. He carried the ball just 10 times but piled up 178 yards and four touchdowns. He added two kickoff returns – 76 and 66 yards – for scores, as well.

“I’m blessed,” Hicks said. “If it wasn’t for God, it wouldn’t happen.”

“Hicks is a stud,” Hatcher said. “I can’t get anybody to come look at him. But it’s because he doesn’t have that ‘breakaway speed.’ Well, speed must be relative. You didn’t see anyone catch him tonight, did you?”

Sophomore Mason Griffin (two carries, 44 yards) added a 31-yard touchdown run for a Warriors offense that, outside of Hicks, was lackluster. The team amassed 268 yards on the ground on 30 carries, and starting quarterback Kai’Shawn Jenkins completed just one pass, though he showed a good arm, for 15 yards.

Whale Branch defensive tackle Xavier Chaplin drags down a Calhoun County ball carrier during the first half of the Warriors’ 54-50 win Friday night at home. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

“The pass protection is not what it should be,” Hatcher said. “And we’ve got two (quarterbacks) that can get the ball there. We’ve just got to get it protected better.

Jenkins also lost two fumbles, including one on one of the strangest plays in recent memory.

On first down from the Whale Branch 35, Jenkins tried to field a low snap and simply couldn’t pick it up. The pocket collapsed, and everyone swarmed to the ball. By the time Calhoun County’s Devin Bull actually wrapped it up in the end zone, the ball had been touched and nearly recovered by at least dozen players.

On special teams, Warriors sophomore wide receiver Keith Chisholm opened the game with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of Whale Branch’s three kickoff return scores.

The Whale Branch defense essentially shut down the Saints running game, holding them to an unspectacular 131 yards on 37 carries. But until his mental error at the end, senior quarterback Russell Brunson Jr. was a thorn in their side, completing 11 of 23 passes for 293 yards and big touchdowns of 53 and 32 yards. Seven of his 11 completions went for more than 20 yards.

“It’s the first game of the year,” Hatcher said. “You always want something bad to show (the kids) as a coach. And we got it. We’ll show them this and tell them the world is coming to an end. We’ll fire ’em up.”

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

Top photo: Whale Branch running back Joseph Hicks, center, scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Calhoun County Saints on Friday night to boost the Warriors to a come-from-behind 54-50 win at home Friday night. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

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