WHITE HALL — Senior safety Joseph Stewart picked off three passes — including two within the final 92 seconds — to help lift White Hall’s Bulldogs to a 40-28 win over stubborn Hot Springs in a 5A-South Conference tilt here Friday night.
“I was just fortunate with those interceptions,” said Stewart. “I think the whole defense stepped up and knew we had to stop them. I give credit to Hot Springs. They almost whipped us.”
Stewart said the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 5A-South) seemed to have gone into the game “with an attitude that it wouldn’t be a hard game” for White Hall to win. Stewart said he and his teammates soon realized that Hot Springs (5-3, 3-2) had the will and firepower to ruin White Hall’s homecoming.
“Our coaches told us all week that it was going to be a tough game, and it was,” said Stewart, who admitted he became “nervous” when Hot Springs scored two touchdowns within 18 seconds in the first minute of the second half to take a 21-14 lead. The Bulldogs responded with two quick touchdowns themselves to carry a 28-21 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Hot Springs — coached by former White Hall player Chris Vereen, son of former long-time Bulldogs coach Charles Vereen — rallied to knot the score at 28-28 on a Ryan Morrow quarterback sneak for a touchdown with 7:17 remaining, setting up White Hall’s winning surge and Stewart’s late heroics.
Running back Irvin Tisdale Jr. gave White Hall the lead for good when he capped an eight-play, 54-yard drive with a fourth-and-goal, 3-yard touchdown run with 3:52 to play. Usually reliable kicker Tyler Carr was off on his point-after kick, leaving White Hall with a shaky 34-28 topping.
Two minutes later, as Hot Springs was driving, Stewart grabbed a Morrow pass and raced 59 yards for an insurance score. A 2-point run was stopped by the Trojans.
Seventeen seconds later, Stewart snared his third interception, this one at Hot Springs’ 49-yard line. He returned the pick to the Trojans’ 31, and the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
White Hall coach Mike Vaughn was pleased with the victory, especially with the Bulldogs’ tradition of troublesome homecoming performances.
“Homecoming is always a distraction for kids,” said Vaughn. “But I’m happy with how our kids fought so hard. Our seniors did a great job picking us up down the stretch. They took charge and played hard. They had to, because coach Vereen had his kids playing so well. We knew he would.
“This was a good win for us,” Vaughn continued. “Our kids rose to the occasion and my coaches did a great job all week.”
White Hall scored first when Tisdale twisted through the line for a touchdown from 6 yards out with 6:29 left in the opening quarter. Carr’s first of four conversion kicks put Hot Springs down by 7-0.
The Trojans registered their first touchdown on their ensuing possession when Morrow, who gave White Hall’s defenders fits throughout the contest with his running ability, scored on a 9-yard run. Dylan Mitchell’s first of four point-afterkicks made the score 7-7.
Tisdale gave White Hall a 14-7 halftime lead with a 4-yard touchdown run just 40 seconds before intermission.
Hot Springs’ third-quarter scoring flash showcased the talents of Quinn Coleman, who tallied his first touchdown on a 49-yard dash on the first play from scrimmage. On White Hall’s ensuing first snap, Coleman recovered a fumble in mid-air and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
Running back Kendrick Edgerson’s 3-yard touchdown run three minutes later lifted White Hall to a 21-21 tie. Just over two minutes later, Edgerson put the Bulldogs up with a 5-yard scoring run.