Several Triton coaches were called on at halftime of Thursday’s home game with Harnett Central to get the current Hawks on board with the magnitude of the county rivalry.
“All the coaches, we got them in there that had graduated from Triton,” said Hawks coach Ben Penny, an alumnus himself. “Kendrick (Harris) and Pat (McNeill) and (Derek) Mangum and Dominique (Smith). We just kind of challenged the guys to step it up a notch. We’ve lost focus with this rivalry in the last eight years. Everything shifted toward South Johnston. … Harnett Central is our original rival.”
Down 7-3 at the break, Triton drove to take the lead on the first series of the second half and the Hawks went on for a 23-13 victory over the depth-shy Trojans.
“Every game you have to play like every play is your last,” Penny said. “You have to have that extra, especially in a rivalry game. Now that (Central) is back in our conference, we have to understand that. This is a big game, not only for us, but for the community in general.”
Triton improved to 2-6 overall and finished 2-3 in the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference. The Hawks will make up a game with West Johnston next Friday (Nov. 9). Central fell to 1-8 and 0-4 with a home game against Southern Lee to end the season on Nov. 9.
The Trojans went ahead 7-0 on their second possession as Hayden Smith kept for a 10-yard touchdown on a read option with 4:43 left in the first quarter. Smith’s pass to Jaden Meadows that covered 63 yards set up the score. Jonathan Solis added the extra point.
Smith was called for intentional grounding after a bad snap in punt formation to give the Hawks an opportunity at the Central 23-yard line. Triton settled for a 26-yard field goal by Paul Wells with 10:33 left in the half.
“I thought we came out flat up front on offense,” Penny said. ” … The guys came out fired up the second half and that was the difference. We got the momentum back.”
The Hawks drove 79 yards to start the second half, going ahead 10-7 on a 9-yard scoring run by Malihk Giles with 7:36 left in the third quarter.
Central regained the lead after a blocked punt by Everett Blake following a bad snap gave the Trojans the ball at the Triton 35. Smith completed four passes for 34 yards, including the score spanning 10 yards to Meadows with 10:52 to go for a 13-10 lead. The conversion kick was blocked by Jalonte McNeill.
The Hawks moved 59 yards to go ahead to stay on a 1-yard sneak by Justin Leggett with 6:34 remaining. Giles had a 38-yard run on the first snap of the four-play series. Austin Riewestahl and Travion Sanders each had 10-yard gains.
Giles broke up a fourth down pass on Central’s ensuing possession and Triton went 43 yards for a closing score from one yard out by Riewestahl with 1:28 left.
Riewestahl had 27 carries, driving and spinning for 142 yards. Giles had 95 yards on six carries. Romello Cowan gained 37 yards on 10 rushes and nine gives to Sanders produced 30 yards.
Leggett completed 2 of 8 passes for 20 yards, both tosses going to Dylan Smith.
Smith connected on 13 of 24 passes for 154 yards. Scott McNeill had an interception late in the first half for the Hawks.
Central was limited to minus-10 yards rushing. Triton held Union Pines to four yards on the ground in a 15-7 win on Oct. 12. The Hawks were coming off a 52-6 loss at Lee County.
“I thought we had been playing good defense all year long, minus the Lee County game, and our offense just needed a chance to get going,” Penny said. “We made some huge stops tonight. They got the ball in short field position on some bad snaps, the ball being wet and whatnot. Other than that, I was pleased with the effort. Our run game is very strong.
“That was another thing coming into tonight. We’ve had a strong run defense up front in the box this year. We really wanted to continue that tonight.”
The Hawks will return Jalonte McNeill, Amir Wynn, Grayson Bradham and T.J. Wilkins in the box next year.
Triton’s depth advantage was apparent in the late stages.
“Every time we had momentum, we just couldn’t capitalize on it,” said Central coach Matt Migliore. “We’d get momentum and get a lead and they’d take it right back from us.
“By the end of the game, they had worn us down. We’re playing 15 or 16 guys and most of them are playing both ways. That offense, when they get rolling, it’s hard to stop them when we’re tired.
“Our method of operation all year, we’ve struggled running the ball and we struggled again tonight. Fortunately for us, we were able to do some things off of it by faking and some of those things but you’ve got to be able to run the ball. We had some issues with protection at the end of the game when we needed to throw.
“If we run the ball, we’d give ourselves a whole lot better chance of winning football games.”
The game was originally scheduled for Friday but was moved up due to the weather forecast. There were showers at the start of the matchup Thursday.
Senior Night coming up
Triton was initially scheduled to host West Johnston on Sept. 13. The Hawks won’t make up games with Fike and Overhills.
“We really want to send (the seniors) out on a high note, and kind of get the offseason rolling for everyone coming back,” Penny said. “We have a strong group, especially skill guys, offense and defense, coming back. It’s just going to be good for everyone involved to finish with a win next week.”
Triton’s junior varsity has just one league loss and some of that personnel will be moving up to contribute of the varsity level in 2019. The JV game with Central will not be played, Penny said.