Watson Chapel’s homecoming evening didn’t go as easy the first 2 minutes, 15 seconds of the game. The Wildcats raced to a 14-0 lead in that span and had to overcome three fumbles — one returned for a touchdown late — for a 28-23 win over Hope on Friday, giving coach George Shelton his 100th career victory.
The Wildcats (5-1, 3-0 in 5A-South Conference) took advantage of a first-play interception and scored on their first two possessions. But Drew Smith threw two touchdown passes to bring Hope (2-4, 1-2) within 14-13 at halftime.
“I think every team is going to have a half of football when they don’t play very well,” Shelton said. Watson Chapel regained control with its first two drives of the second half. The first went 68 yards in 10 plays, as Devonte Battles finished it off with an 11-yard run scoring run.
Jordan Stargell made his first of two interceptions on the night to stop Hope’s next series and set up Watson Chapel’s next scoring drive from its own 46. James Collier burst up the middle 28 yards to give the Wildcats a 28-13 lead.
“I was really pleased with how we came out the second half offensively, and the defense kept putting out fires when we kept making mistakes,” Shelton said. “I say an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”
It was 28-16 after Edmundo Dominguez converted a 38-yard field goal, but neither team could get much more going on offense afterward. The Wildcats got the ball back with 4:04 left in the game and hoped to run out the clock, but Javon Westmoreland scooped up a Collier fumble after a 9-yard run and returned it 80 yards to bring the Bobcats within 28-23. Watson Chapel then recovered an onside kick and got a first down on an offsides penalty against Hope to seal the win.
“Our defense kept us in the game and gave us the opportunity to be close and have a chance to win at the end,” Hope coach Jay Turley said.
It appeared it wasn’t going to be Hope’s night as soon as Smith threw an interception to Kristen Trammell on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Watson Chapel’s SanAntonio Cole then threw a 30-yard completion to Stargell to set up Collier’s 2-yard scoring run. After forcing the Bobcats to go three-and-out, the Wildcats went up two scores on a 6-yard Battles run.
Hope got back into the game on its next drive, when Vincent Love broke free from two would-be tacklers on a pass from Smith and turned it into a 50-yard completion for a touchdown. Watson Chapel then was held to 4 yards on its next three drives, even forced to punt after recovering a muffed punt at Hope’s 27 late in the first quarter.
Nathan Stuber and Smith took turns at QB for the Bobcats early in the second quarter, and the two engineered a 10-play, 55-yard march to make it a 14-13 game. On fourth-and-9, Smith hit Steven Caple in the end zone from 26 yards out. But Dominguez was stopped after recovering a bad snap, keeping Watson Chapel in the lead.
Watson Chapel totaled 242 yards of offense to Hope’s 144 for the game, holding the Bobcats to 40 rushing yards. Battles rushed 21 times for 96 yards and Collier 12 times for 89. Cole, who was nursing a thumb injury, completed 4 of 8 passes for 69 yards with an interception.
“It kind of hampered what we do in terms of throwing the ball,” Shelton said of the injury. “So we had to scale back some of the things we try to do with him in terms of in the air with the football. … Our running game fought very hard to matriculate the ball down the field, and they did a good job.”
Smith and Stubber combined to throw 5 of 11 for 104 yards and three picks.
Watson Chapel visits White Hall next Friday.