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Vikings leave little doubt

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D.H. Conley's Austin Conger, right, celebrates after recovering a fumble during a game against Washington on Oct. 18, 2019.

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By Christopher Decker
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 9, 2019

After suffering a one-point loss at home last year to South Central on senior night, D.H. Conley returned the favor Friday night, blasting the Falcons 41-6 at South Central High School for its eighth straight victory and securing the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference title.

The 38-degree air temperature didn’t stop Vikings players from pouring the icy contents of the Gatorade cooler over fourth-year head coach Nate Conner as time expired.

“I’m so proud of these young men and how hard they have worked. Winning a conference championship is not easy,” Conner said. “They never lost faith early on and continued to get better.”

After an 0-3 start, the Vikings ended the regular season 8-3 and 6-0 in conference play and will wait to see who they play in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs. South Central fell to 5-6 and 2-4 and could potentially be on the outside looking in when the NCHSAA releases the 4-A bracket today.

On the defensive side of the ball, lineman Panda Askew made his presence felt, securing the first two interceptions of his career and returning the second 15 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble late in the third quarter to end a South Central scoring threat.

“It means a lot to me. I just want to do it for my boys,” Askew said. “I’ve never had an interception in my life. When I was running, I was looking around to make sure I was running the right way.”

Although his receivers dropped eight passes, quarterback Nick Hamilton completed 22 of his 40 pass attempts for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Matthew Rostar hauled in two touchdowns while Charlie Dees caught the third. Running back Ramon Mabry also had a nice night, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

The South Central offense struggled to move the ball and punted five times throughout the night. Quarterback Xavier Meachem completed 10-of-27 pass attempts for 71 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Falcons rushing attack gained only 85 yards.

“I thought we played up and down, and you can’t do that against a well-coached team like Conley,” Falcons head coach Andy Tew said. “When you go up against the best team in the conference, you have to stay at a high level. You have to make the normal plays, the easy plays and the hard plays. We weren’t consistent from start to finish.”

Mabry scored the first touchdown of the night on a 5-yard scamper that capped off an 11-play, 65-yard drive. The Vikings forced a three-and-out on South Central’s first offensive possession before Mabry scored for a 33-yard touchdown to give Conley a 14-0 advantage.

The Falcons scored their lone touchdown on the next drive, when Meachem connected with Jyquan Sheppard for an 18-yard touchdown reception.

South Central’s defense stepped up in the second quarter, earning a fourth down stop midway through the quarter to prevent a score and a second fourth down stop inside the 20-yard line with 1:19 left in the first half.

Meachem, however, was picked off by Askew at the line of scrimmage with eight seconds left in the half. The next play, Hamilton connected with Rostar for a touchdown to put the Vikings up 21-6 at halftime.

“It was a huge moment,” Conner said. “When Panda goes, we go. He’s got a great personality, and that came out tonight.”

South Central could not recover in the second half, allowing a touchdown on Conley’s first possession of the third quarter, and Askew snagged a pass that bounced off the hands of a Falcons receiver and returned the interception for a touchdown on the following South Central possession. Hamilton threw two of his three touchdowns in the second half.

“I think we left some things out there and that’s what we talked about at halftime,” Conner said. “We didn’t need to change anything, but we need to come out and play a little more sound. And that’s what we did in the second half.”

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