The championship game for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A Western Regional was decided in the final moments.
Both Hickory and Dudley were in the lead at various points throughout the game, but ultimately Hickory secured a spot in the 3A state championship game with a close 42-41 win. This was made possible by a touchdown scored with only 1:36 remaining in the game.
Within the first 90 seconds of the game, Hickory gained an advantage as Brady Stober threw a pass to Jamien Little for a 19-yard touchdown. The Red Tornadoes were ahead 7-0 with 10:35 remaining in the first quarter. Hickory increased their lead to 10-0 with 3:30 left in the quarter thanks to Braeden McCourt’s successful 33-yard field goal.
Dudley managed to keep control of the game in the beginning. The Panthers scored a touchdown with a five-yard run by Jayden Brown, bringing the score to 10-7 against Hickory before the end of the first quarter.
Hickory experienced a disaster during the second quarter when a snap went over the head of punter Tristian Williams. Williams was unable to recover the ball and Dudley’s Robert McCollum scored a touchdown in the end zone. This put the Panthers ahead for the first time with a score of 14-10.
However, Dudley’s advantage was short-lived as Tylar Johnson scored a touchdown with a 27-yard run just two minutes later. Despite this, Dudley managed to block the extra-point attempt, resulting in Hickory holding onto a 16-14 lead.
Stober’s second touchdown pass of the night came just before halftime. He completed a 30-yard pass to Dashawn Medley to give Hickory a 23-14 lead at halftime.
Dudley quickly scored in the third quarter when Koredell Bartley made a five-yard touchdown, bringing the Panthers within two points at 23-21 in just over a minute.
Hickory responded with a touchdown pass from running back Isaiah Lackey to Deke Young, however the Red Tornadoes’ extra-point try was unsuccessful due to a faulty snap. This allowed Andrew Attmore to score a three-yard rushing touchdown and Jayden Brown to successfully convert a two-point attempt, resulting in a tie game of 29-29 as the fourth quarter began.
The final quarter alone was valuable enough to justify the cost of admission.
During the second quarter, Lackey scored a one-yard touchdown, giving Hickory a 36-29 advantage. Approximately 90 seconds afterwards, Attore threw a pass to Nasir Newkirk for a 37-yard touchdown, but the Panthers were unable to make the extra-point and were behind 36-35.
The defense of Dudley successfully stopped Hickory’s next drive, resulting in a three-and-out. This allowed Attmore to throw another touchdown pass to Newkirk. With just over four minutes remaining, Dudley was ahead 41-36 even though the two-point conversion was unsuccessful.
Hickory had ample time to make a play. With a 3rd down and goal from the 9-yard line, Stober connected with Little who battled to reach the end zone. Although Hickory’s two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, the Red Tornadoes regained the lead of 42-41 with 1:36 remaining.
Hickory’s defensive unit successfully stopped Dudley’s final attempt, securing a spot for the Red Tornadoes in the state football championship for the first time in 1996. This marks only the second time that Hickory’s football team has made it to the state championship, with their previous win in 1996. Hickory’s record for the season is now 15-0.
Dudley’s record for the season concluded at 14 wins and 1 loss. The defeat against Hickory marked the Panthers’ first loss of the season.